Project assesses nutrient needs of modern soybean varieties

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Grower interest in management strategies for high-yielding soybeans is spurring DuPont Pioneer to fund research to determine if nutrient recommendations, established almost 50 years ago, should be adjusted to fit current genetics and agronomy practices.

Pioneer is providing support to Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin-Extension soybean specialist, and Adam Gaspar, UW graduate student, to study nutrient usage in soybeans. The Pioneer Crop Management Research Awards (CMRA) project will take three years to complete.

The CMRA program sponsors projects with universities to conduct collaborative agronomy research. Pioneer seeks out top researchers and provides funding for them to expand studies of key issues that affect growers. The company initiates eight to 10 new CMRA projects with university researchers each year. The goal is to help provide additional agronomic information to its customers to help them get the greatest value from each acre.

“We want to look at soybean nutrient uptake,” Conley says. “We’re looking at various maturities and growing environments to see if there are differences in plant uptake of several key nutrients.”

Many of today’s nutrient recommendations for soybeans were derived from research conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, Conley explains. Soybean genetics and agronomy practices have changed significantly.

“The goal is to see if plants are using more nutrients or using them at different times than the older research indicates,” Conley says. “If nutrient needs are different today, we can develop up-to-date recommendations for growers.”

Conley and Gaspar will measure nutrient uptake multiple times during the growing season and assess where the plant is using each nutrient. Among the nutrients they’re measuring are potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, boron and manganese. The three-year project will require the collection and review of a large amount of data from fields in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota—a process that Gaspar will spearhead.

“One reason the industry hasn’t updated nutrients recommendations is that the research is difficult and costly,” Conley says. “DuPont Pioneer is funding this project and Gaspar’s time. Pioneer is also providing germplasm to help us determine how today’s varieties are using nutrients. The Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board also is contributing significant support for this work. Collaborations like this help us provide better information to growers.”

Soybean production has changed since the research that led to current nutrient recommendations. Growers are planting earlier. In the best growing environments, they’re pushing yields up to and beyond 100 bushels per acre.

“Growers are expecting more from soybeans today,” Conley says. “While they’re not going to produce 100 bushels per acre in all environments, it’s clear they’re managing for overall higher yields. We need to see if nutrient availability may be limiting yields.”

Conley and Gaspar will be studying nutrient uptake and nutrient movement in the plant. They’ll sample plant tissues (stems, petioles, leaves, pods, seeds and fallen leaves and petioles) to analyze nutrient partitioning throughout the growing season.

“We want to see if existing recommendations are in line or may need updating to help growers optimize soybean production,” Conley says. “Nutrient analysis is costly and time-consuming. This is a massive undertaking.” 


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