Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Nebulous of Non-Nodulating Soybean in 2015

Every year I get an occasional phone call, email or text regarding issues surrounding soybean nodulation concerns. This year it has been non-stop for several weeks! Here are the top four questions and my responses for your consideration.
  1. Why is nodulation such a problem this year? Abiotic stress such as low pH ( 6.0), saturated or droughty soils and cool soil temperatures can negatively impact nodulation (Valentine et al. 2011). Duzan et al. (2004) reported that root hair deformations (a physiological precursor to rhizobia infection and nodulation) was 64 and 82% of the control when rhizosphere (root zone) temperatures were 59 and 63 degree F when compared to 77 degrees F. This suggests that the cool soil temperatures we have been experiencing have likely limited the infection sites available for nodulation to occur. This effect has likely been exacerbated in no-till or compacted conditions in 2015. In short less nodulation sites on the roots means increased likelihood for less nodules.  
  2.  I double inoculated my soybeans on virgin ground and my nodule count is really low? First, please refer to #1 above regarding abiotic stress on soybean nodulation. Secondly remember to read and follow the application, compatibility, and planting timing of inoculants. In reading through various inoculant labels today, I saw everything from ‘not tested’ to ‘not compatible to plant within hours to weeks to months of application’. Lastly remember there is a poor correlation between nodule number and N2 fixation, so don't get overly concerned about nodule count; it is nodule efficiency that matters and you can’t measure that by counting. In short, read the labels and make sure everything is compatible and your application and planting window is adequate prior to purchasing the product.
  3. How long will soybeans continue to put on new nodules? Dr. Purcell indicated that they can measure very active N2 fixation almost until the end of seedfill (personal communication). Given the normal life span of an active nodule is 4-5 weeks, this would suggest that soybean will continue to put on new nodules (if the environment is conducive and rhizobia are present) until R6 soybean (late pod fill).   
  4. Should I apply nitrogen to these poorly nodulating soybeans, and if so, how much? My general answer is no and none. First of all, the application of nitrogen to soybean beyond a "starter" rate (≤~30 pounds) will lead to a rapid and dramatic inhibition of N fixation (Sinclair, 2004). Though it does not appear that the applied nitrogen is directly damaging to the N fixation machinery (nodules), it will reduce or stop fixation. If the soil NO3 levels drop, then N fixation can resume in about a week (Sinclair, 2004). Over-application of N will shut down whatever rhizobia is actively working. Furthermore, our 2014 data shows that a soybean plant takes up 3.56 pounds of N in above-ground tissue per bushel of grain. So a 73 bu/a crop removed 267 pounds of N/a. This does not account for below-ground uptake or nitrogen loss and efficiency from the applied nitrogen. In short, that is tough math to get a positive ROI on. 
Literature cited:

Dr. Larry Purcell (personal communication 7/16/15)

H. M. Duzan, X. Zhou, A. Souleimanov and D. L. Smith*. 2004.Perception of Bradyrhizobium japonicum Nod factor by soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] root hairs under abiotic stress conditions. Journal of Experimental Botany, Vol. 55, No. 408, pp. 2641–2646, December 2004 doi:10.1093/jxb/erh26

Sinclair, 2004. Improved Carbon and Nitrogen Assimilation. "In: Soybeans: Improvement, Production, and Uses." Third Edition. Agronomy No.16. Edited by H.R. Boerma and J.E. Specht. 

Valentine, A., V. Benidito, and Y Kang. 2011. Legume Nitrogen Fixation and Soil Abiotic Stress: From Physiological to Genomics and Beyond. Annual Plant Reviews. 42:207-248.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Soybean Flowers, Glyphosate Label, and Wheel Track Damage...Oh My!

Given the quick start to our soybean growing season we will begin to see many soybean fields begin to flower (R1) next week (6/21/15). As we enter the soybean reproductive growth phase there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is that soybean will produce flowers for ~3 to five weeks, depending upon planting date and environment. During that time soybean will abort anywhere from 20 to 80% of the flowers that they produce. Generally it is the first and last flush of flowers produced that are most likely to be aborted.

R1 soybean growth stage
Next, the timing window for glyphosate applications in our early planted soybean is quickly closing. Glyphosate labels indicate that applications can be made through R2 or full flower. The R3 growth stage begins when one of the four top nodes with a fully developed leaf has a 3/16 inch long pod. Applications made after the R3 stage begins are off-label applications. On average it takes ~ 4 days to move from R1 (beginning flower) to R2 (full flower) and ~10 days from R2 to the start of R3 (beginning pod).

Last but not least, wheel track damage made from ground applications may start to reduce yield. Sprayer wheel traffic from first flower (R1) through harvest can damage soybean plants and reduce yield (Hanna et al. 2008). Our research suggests that an adequate soybean stand (more than 100,000 plants per acre) planted in late April though mid-May can compensate for wheel tracks made when a field is sprayed at R1. Yield loss can occur, however, when wheel tracks are made at R1 or later in thin soybean stands (less than 100,000 plants per acre) or late planted soybeans. Regardless of stand, plants could not compensate for wheel tracks made at R3 (early pod development) or R5 (early seed development). The average yield loss per acre is based on sprayer boom width (distance between wheel track passes). In our trials yield losses averaged 2.5, 1.9, and 1.3% when sprayer boom widths measured 60, 90, and 120 foot, respectively. Multiple trips along the same wheel tracks did not increase yield loss over the first trip.

Spraying soybean at the R1 crop growth stage
Wheel track damage to drilled soybean at R1
Hanna, S., Conley, S. P., Shaner, G., and Santini, J.  2008.  Fungicide application timing and row spacing effect on soybean canopy penetration and grain yield.  Agronomy Journal: 100:1488-1492.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Tank Full of Sugar Helps the Profits Go Down

While in attendance at the 2015 Commodity Classic I was a bit dismayed at the number of featured speakers expounding upon the incredible in-season benefits of applying sugar to field crops. I have been sitting on this article for a few months now waiting for the right time to relaunch the below article originally entitled "Do Foliar Applications of Sugar Improve Soybean Yield".  I waited a bit too long as my colleagues at the University of Nebraska beat me to the punch with their articles linked here "Sugar Applications to Crops - Nebraska On-Farm Research Network Results" and "Research Results: Sugar Applications to Crops". I guess I shouldn't feel too bad though as this is the first time the Corn Huskers have beat the Badgers in anything for a long time....  

***UNL article spoiler alert*** In short the University of Nebraska team did not find a consistent yield increase in corn or sorghum and averaged 0.8 bu per acre in soybean (FYI: average cost of ground application in $7.55 and aerial is $10.60; 2015 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey and the average yield loss caused by sprayer wheel track damage in soybean in rows less than 20 inches is 1.9 or 1.3% with a 90 or 120 foot boom, respectively).

I also want to give credit to my colleague Chad Lee also wrote a nice article entitled "Could Sugar Help Drought Stressed Corn?" that discusses sugar rates, biological activity and actual costs of product. 

I am certain this article will stir up severe indignation, however when the local cash bids are averaging $8.88 ROI is more important than ever.   

Do Foliar Applications of Sugar Improve Soybean Yield (Originally published: June 14th, 2011)
High commodity prices have led growers to consider many novel soybean inputs. One input that has garnered considerable attention is the foliar application of sugar products to increase soybean yield. The objective of this research was to evaluate soybean yield in response to various sources of foliar-applied sugar across four states in the Midwest. Field research studies were conducted at Arlington, Wisconsin; Urbana, Illinois; St. Paul, Minnesota; and West Lafayette, Indiana in 2010.The four sources of sugar evaluated in this study were:
1.     granulated cane sugar
2.     high fructose corn syrup
3.     molasses
4.     blackstrap molasses.
All treatments were applied at the equivalent rate of 3 lb sugar a-1 and applied at 15 to 20 gal a-1. The treatments consisted of an untreated check, all four sources of sugar applied at V4, granulated cane sugar and blackstrap molasses applied at R1, granulated cane sugar applied at V4 and R1, and blackstrap molasses applied at V4 and R1.

No positive or negative (phytotoxic) effects were visually observed on the soybean foliage at any location within 10 days following foliar applications (data not shown). Furthermore, sugar did not increase soybean yield within location (data no shown) or across locations [P = 0.60 (Figure 1)], regardless of source. While this study cannot conclusively prove foliar applications of sugar will not increase soybean yield, the authors conclude that other management strategies to improve soybean yield should take precedence over applying sugar.
The source of this data is:

Furseth, B. J., Davis, V., Naeve, S., Casteel, S., and Conley, S. P. 2011. Soybean Seed Yield Was Not Influenced by Foliar Applications of Sugar. Crop Management. Accepted: 6/1/11.  

Please visit: to view the entire manuscript.