Compared to corn, wheat, and sorghum, soybeans remove significant amounts of nutrients per bushel of grain harvested. Nutrient uptake in soybeans early in the season is relatively small. However as they grow and develop, the daily rate of nutrient uptake increases. Soybeans need an adequate nutrient supply at each developmental stage for optimum growth.
High-yielding soybeans remove substantial nutrients from the soil. This should be taken into account in an overall nutrient management plan. A 40-bushel-per-acre soybean crop removes approximately 30 pounds of P2O5 and 50 pounds of K2O with the grain; in addition, approximately 10 pounds of P2O5 and 40 pounds of K2O can be removed with the stover.
Nitrogen is supplied to soybeans mainly by nitrogen fixation, and fertilizer nitrogen application is not recommended if the plants are well nodulated. Soybeans are heavy users of nitrogen, removing a total of 130 pounds per acre, and about 44 pounds with the stover for a 40-bushel-per-acre soybean crop. Soybeans use all the nitrogen they can fix plus nitrogen from the pool of available nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen fertilizer application to soybean seldom results in any yield benefit, and efforts should focus on proper inoculation.
Phosphorus applications should be based on a soil test. Responses to direct phosphorus fertilization is generally consistent in soils testing very low or low in soil test phosphorus. Response to starter phosphorus fertilizer application in soybeans can occur, but it depends on several factors. The most important factor is the soil test level. Generally, warmer soils at soybean planting, compared to corn, also may contribute to typically lower response to starter fertilizers in soybeans. However, starter fertilizer in soybeans can be a good way to complement nutrients that may have been removed by high-yielding crops in the rotation like corn. Banding fertilizer at planting is an efficient application method for soybeans. Soybean seeds are easily injured by fertilizer, therefore, no direct seed contact with fertilizer is advised.
Soybean seeds are relatively high in potassium and removal of potassium by soybeans is greater than for other crops on a per-bushel basis when only the grain is removed. As with phosphorus, a soil test is the best index of potassium needs. Soils testing very low or low should be fertilized with potassium, either as a banded starter at planting or broadcast and incorporated. Potassium should not be placed in contact with the soybean seed because of possible salt injury. Yield increases from potassium can be comparable to those with phosphorus under very low and low soil test levels.
Sulfur is mobile in the soil (leaching is common), but fairly immobile in the plant. High soil test variability along with significant uptake by crops generates the need for proper sulfur management, especially in sandier soils and fields with several different soil types. Deficiency symptoms in soybeans are pale-green to yellow leaf color without prominent veins or necrosis in the youngest trifoliate leaves. Recent Kansas studies suggest a low probability of soybean response to sulfur application. However, sulfur removal with soybean can be significant, and more sensitive crops in the rotation such as wheat may require sulfur fertilization.
Iron deficiency symptoms appear in irregularly shaped spots randomly distributed across a field, primarily in fields with a previous history of iron deficiency. Different annual weather patterns can make iron chlorosis more or less prevalent. Iron chlorosis also differs under different soil conditions. In general, high soil pH and high carbonates (free lime) can increase the incidence of iron deficiency. Iron chlorosis can be a big limitation in some regions of western Kansas. Iron fertilizer using chelated sources, and in direct contact with the seed (in-furrow) has shown significant yield responses in soils with history of iron chlorosis. If iron chlorosis has been a common problem in the past, producers should select a soybean variety tolerant to iron chlorosis. It may be beneficial to use a chelated iron in-furrow application. Foliar iron treatments seldom result in yield increase.
Zinc, manganese, and boron are other nutrients that can be limiting in soybean. The need for zinc should be determined by soil tests. Zinc fertilizer can be either banded at or broadcast preplant with little difference in response when applied at an adequate rate. Both organic and inorganic zinc sources (chelates and nonchelates) can be used, but chelates are considered more effective than the inorganic sources.
Manure applications also are effective at eliminating micronutrient deficiency problems, including iron. Monitoring nutrient levels with tissue analysis along with soil tests conducted during the crop season should be used to diagnose potential nutrient deficiencies. Stresses such as drought, heat, and pest pressure can all influence tissue test results. Some micronutrients also can cause phytotoxicity if prevalent in large quantities. Nutrient removal by soybean is very high in high-yielding environments so fertilizer application rates will be high or soil test levels will drop. Regular soil testing (every 2 to 3 years) is essential for optimum nutrient management. Use a build and maintain phosphorus and potassium management system or be willing to fertilizer each crop each year, including soybeans. Soybeans take advantage of residual phosphorus and potassium, but keep in mind the total nutrient needs in the rotation.
See K-State Research and Extension publication Soil Test Interpretations and Fertilizer Recommendations, MF2586 for more complete soybean fertilizer recommendations: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/MF2586.pdf
Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist
For more information, see Kansas Soybean Management 2015, K-State Research and Extension publication MF3154: