More Roots = Increased Soil Health

More Roots = Increased Soil Health

The Soil Health School at Haskell Ag Lab in Concord, NE will be August 1 and 2.

The Haskell Ag Lab Soil Health School is a collaborative event with Nebraska Extension, North Central Region’s Soil Health Nexus, and the Nebraska NRCS. Anyone is welcome to attend this free event!

preview of root boxes to be shown at the Soil Health School on August 1 and 2.
Preview of root boxes to be shown at the Soil Health School on August 1 and 2.

During the Soil Health School, presenters will cover many aspects of the science related to soil health, including foundational soil health principles, the evaluation of soil health management practices, and get to experience many hands-on soil health investigations and demonstrations. As a bit of a sneak preview, this article highlights what Leslie Johnson, Nebraska Extension Statewide Manure Educator will be sharing that day. Of course, she’ll be talking about how manure can impact soil health and serving as a host since the event is taking place at Haskell Ag Lab where her office is based, but the role she’s the most excited about because it will be the most hands-on, is getting to show different ways of determining root growth. Anyone can dig up a plant and look at the roots, but then the plants is dead so how does that help? Leslie has partnered up with Marty Marx at the Wayne NRCS office, and they are going to show multiple ways of looking at roots without digging the plant up.

The first couple ways of looking at roots take place right in the field. They were able to temporarily acquire a camera that takes high resolution images of roots while the plants are growing. To do this, they installed clear tubes to a depth of about 2.5 feet under 8 different cover crop plots, alfalfa, and sod. Because the camera hasn’t arrived yet and isn’t something that most producers would have access to, they decided to find a tool that’s a little more accessible and inexpensive. They are going to be using an endoscope, which is more commonly known as a plumber’s camera, though mechanics sometimes use them too. Using the endoscope, they’ve been taking pictures on a weekly basis since installation to show growth over time.

They also built root boxes to grow cover crops right in the office. The root boxes have plexiglass sides to see not only the above ground growth, but also what’s happening under the surface. This also allows the ability to control the climate and watering to talk about the differences in different environments.

This is only a small portion of the two-day event. There will be several demonstrations and presentations that cover a variety of topics. Eleven Certified Crop Advisor Continuing Education Units have been requested.

Registration is required for the event, but both full days are free to attend and include a free lunch and refreshments. The first day, August 1, will be 8 am to 5 pm, and the second day, August 2, will be 8 am to 4 pm. There is an optional tour on August 3. More information about the tour is available on the event website, which also includes the full agenda and registration information.

For more information or questions, email Leslie Johnson at or Katja Koehler-Cole at

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