Background: Stalk lodging (breaking of agricultural plant stalks prior to harvest) is a multi-billion dollar a year problem. Stalk lodging occurs when bending moments induced by a combination of external loading (e.g. wind) and self-loading (e.g. the plant’s own weight) exceed the stalk bending strength of plant stems. Previous studies have investigated external loading and self-loading of plants as separate and independent phenomena. However, these two types of loading are highly interconnected and mutually dependent. The purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to investigate the combined effect of external loads and plant weight on the flexural response of plant stems, and (2) to provide a generalized framework for accounting for self-weight during mechanical phenotyping experiments used to predict stalk lodging resistance.
Results: A mathematical methodology for properly accounting for the interconnected relationship between self-loading and external loading of plants stems is presented. The method was compared to numerous finite element models of plants stems and found to be highly accurate. The resulting interconnected set of equations from the derivation were used to produce user-friendly applications by presenting (1) simplified self-loading correction factors for common loading configurations of plants, and (2) a generalized Microsoft Excel framework that calculates the influence of self-loading on crop stems. Results indicate that ignoring the effects of self-loading when calculating stalk flexural stiffness is appropriate for large and stiff plants such as maize, bamboo, and sorghum. However, significant errors result when ignoring the effects of self-loading in smaller plants with larger relative grain sizes, such as rice (8% error) and wheat (16% error).
Conclusions: Properly accounting for self-weight can be critical to determining the structural response of plant stems. Equations and tools provided herein enable researchers to properly account for the plant’s weight during mechanical phenotyping experiments used to determine stalk lodging resistance.