Molybdenum: The Micro-est of Micronutrients

Molybdenum (Mo) is an essential plant nutrient, necessary for nitrate assimilation and biological nitrogen fixation. Legumes, relying on symbiotic nitrogen fixation, have greater Mo requirement than non-legumes. Nevertheless, the Mo requirement of plants is the lowest among all micronutrients, with critical deficiency concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 1.0 ppm in plant leaves. The very low Mo concentration lies near the detection limit for most laboratory instruments used in commercial soil and plant analysis, so you may see Mo concentration reported as “below instrument detection limit.”

Plant-available Mo in soil is present as molybdate (MoO42-). Unlike most other micronutrients, molybdate availability in soil increases with soil pH. On soils with pH greater than 6.0, Mo deficiency is exceptionally rare. In the northern Great Plains and Canadian Prairies where most soils have high pH, Mo deficiency is virtually unknown, and background plant Mo concentration in legumes ranges from 4 to 8 ppm, indicating that plants obtain sufficient Mo from soil naturally. In the upper Midwest where low pH soils are more common, crop response to Mo fertilization has been limited to legume crops grown on strongly acidic, sandy or peat soils.

Since Mo deficiency is so uncommon and most soils are limed above pH 6.0, no reliable plant-available soil test method for Mo has been developed in the region. The acid ammonium oxalate method was infrequently used in the southeast United States, but the prediction of crop response to Mo fertilization aligns more closely with soil pH than soil test Mo. If soil pH is less than 6.0 and Mo fertilization is necessary, a molybdate fertilizer seed treatment or foliar application is usually sufficient. Overapplication of Mo fertilizer is not a concern for grain production. In forage production however, overapplication is a serious concern because excessive Mo in forages can cause Mo-induced copper deficiency (molybdenosis) in ruminant livestock.

Fertilizing soybean

Soybean acres expanded greatly across the northern Great Plains and into Manitoba through the 1990s and 2000s. Today, soybean occupies a large portion of planted acres and makes a desirable rotation crop in canola, corn, and small grain production systems. As soybean has advanced northward and westward, soybean is often billed as a low maintenance crop, requiring no fertilizer or even seed inoculation. The fact is, if you expect soybean to be a low maintenance crop, you can expect low yield results. Achieving high soybean yields starts with a good, long-term soil fertility plan.

Nitrogen

Soybean yielding 40 bu/acre requires about 200 lb/acre nitrogen, but luckily you do not have to provide all the nitrogen! Soybean relies on nitrogen-fixing bacteria to meet its nitrogen requirements. Legumes, like soybean, form a symbiotic relationship with N-fixing bacteria, housed in root nodules, to provide sufficient nitrogen. Each legume species requires a unique N-fixing bacterium, thus an inoculant for lentil or pea does not work on soybean. Soybean seed must be inoculated with the N-fixing bacteria Bradyrhizobia japonicum. Ensure you have the proper soybean-specific seed inoculant. You can count the number of nodules on soybean roots and verify the presence of active N-fixing bacteria in the nodules with bright pink centers. These soybean plants have enough active N-fixing bacteria to meet soybean nitrogen requirements.

For new soybean growers, the N-fixing bacteria Bradyrhizobia japonicum is not naturally present in soil and seed inoculation is required. During the first few years of soybean establishment, supplemental nitrogen may be required to achieve good soybean yield while the N-fixing bacteria population builds. University of Minnesota researchers in the northern Red River Valley showed that soils with less than 75 lb/acre nitrate-N (0-24 inch) required 40-50 lb/acre additional preplant nitrogen. If successful inoculation and good nodule counts are observed in the first year, then no additional nitrogen should be required in subsequent years.

Plant soybean on soils with less than 100 lb/acre nitrate-N (0-24 inch), if possible. High residual soil nitrate may delay root nodulation with N-fixing bacteria and increase the severity of iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC). Because soybean can fix its own nitrogen, you may recoup better economic return on soils with high residual nitrate with crops that do not fix their own nitrogen like corn or wheat.

Phosphorus

Soybean does not respond to phosphorus as dramatically as grass crops like corn or wheat do. Nevertheless, medium to high soil test P are required to achieve good soybean yields. Soybean responds to broadcast P placement better than seed-placed or sideband P. In dryland regions where soybean is planted with air drills, seed-placed P or sideband P is often the only opportunity to apply phosphorus. You must pay special attention to seed-placed fertilizer safety with soybean. An air drill with narrow row spacing (6 inch) should not exceed 20 lb/acre P2O5 (40 lb/acre monoammonium phosphate, MAP, 11-52-0). Fertilizer rates exceeding the seed safety limit may delay seedling emergence and reduce plant population. For wider row spacings, no fertilizer should be placed with seed.

Potassium

Soybean removes far more potassium in harvested seed than canola or wheat. Soybean yielding 40 bu/acre removes about 60 lb/acre K2O, while wheat yielding 60 bu/acre removes only 20 lb/acre K2O. Pay close attention to potassium removal across the crop rotation. After soybean is added to the crop rotation, cumulative potassium removal greatly increases, and declining soil test K is observed over time.

Do not place potassium with soybean seed; delayed seedling emergence and reduced plant population can occur. Any potassium fertilizer should be broadcasted or banded away from seed.

Sulfur

Sulfur deficiency in soybean is uncommon, yet sometimes observed on coarse-textured soils with low organic matter (< 3.0%). Soybean response to sulfur is usually confined to certain zones within fields. With additional sulfur, soybean can produce more vegetative growth, but more vegetative growth may increase soybean disease severity, such as white mold. The residual sulfur remaining after sulfur-fertilized canola, corn, or small grain is often sufficient to meet soybean sulfur requirements.

Iron

Soybean is very susceptible to iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC). Soybean IDC is not caused by low soil iron but instead by soil conditions that decrease iron uptake by soybean roots. Soybean IDC risk and severity are primarily related to soil carbonate content (calcium carbonate equivalent, CCE) and worsened by salinity (electrical conductivity, EC).

Soybean IDC is common in the upper Midwest, northern Great Plains, and Canadian Prairies, where soils frequently have high carbonate and/or salinity. Within a field, IDC symptoms are usually confined to soybean IDC hotspots with high carbonate and salinity; however, symptoms may appear across a field if high carbonate and salinity are present throughout the field. Soybean IDC severity is made worse in cool, wet soils and soils with high residual nitrate. Soil pH is not a good indicator of soybean IDC risk because some high pH soils lack high carbonate and salinity, which are the two principal risk factors.

Guidelines for managing soybean IDC:

  1. Soil test each field, zone, or grid for soil carbonate and salinity. This may require soil sampling prior to soybean (possibly outside of your usual soil sampling rotation) or consulting previous soil sampling records.
  2. Plant soybean in fields with low carbonate and salinity (principal soybean IDC risk factors).
  3. Choose an IDC tolerant soybean variety on fields with moderate to high carbonate and salinity. This is your most practical option to reduce soybean IDC risk. Consult seed dealers, university soybean IDC ratings, and neighbor experiences when searching for IDC tolerant soybean varieties.
  4. Plant soybean in wider rows. Soybean IDC tends to be less severe in wide-row spacings (more plants per row, plants are closer together) than narrow-row spacings or solid-seeded spacings.
  5. Apply chelated iron fertilizer (e.g., high quality FeEDDHA) in-furrow at planting. In-furrow FeEDDHA application may not be enough to help an IDC susceptible variety in high IDC risk soils (see points #2 and #3).
  6. Avoid planting soybean on soils with very high IDC risk.

Zinc

Zinc deficiency in soybean is rare, even on soils with low soil test Zn. Soybean seed yield response to zinc is limited on soils with less than 0.5 ppm Zn. More zinc sensitive crops like corn, dry bean, flax, and potato will respond to zinc on soils with less than 1.0 ppm Zn. If zinc sensitive crops also exist in the crop rotation, you may apply zinc with broadcast phosphorus or potassium during the soybean year as another opportunity to build soil test Zn across the crop rotation.

Copper for Small Grains

Among crops grown in the northern Great Plains, small grains (cereals) are the most susceptible to copper deficiency. Copper (Cu) is an essential micronutrient required in small concentrations for plant growth and reproduction. Copper deficiency symptoms in cereals include pale yellowing, wilted and twisted leaf tips, and malformed seed heads. Severe copper deficiency will stop plant growth and kill plants during tiller formation. During pollination, copper deficiency will cause florets to remain partially open. This creates a vulnerable period for diseases, such as Fusarium head blight (head scab) and ergot, to infect the seed head and reduce grain yield.

Small grains sensitive to copper deficiency include barley, oat, rye, triticale, and wheat (including durum, spring, and winter types). Copper deficiency is most common on soils with less than 0.5 ppm Cu. Soils with low soil test Cu frequently include sandy soils with low organic matter (<3.0%) and organic soils (peat) with very high organic matter (>10%). Between soil and plant analysis, diagnosing copper deficiency with soil analysis is the most predictive. Plant analysis is less helpful because the plant Cu concentrations in sufficient and deficient plants are very close.

The most effective strategy to build soil test Cu on mineral soils is to broadcast-incorporate copper sulfate (25% Cu). building soil test Cu for many years. Do not mix copper sulfate with seed-placed dry fertilizer blends for air drills; copper sulfate is a hygroscopic (water holding) material that makes blending difficult and bridging is a concern. For seed-placed copper, use a liquid copper source injected in furrow. Liquid copper sources include dissolved copper sulfate and various chelated Cu products.

On organic soils, soil test Cu is difficult to build as copper readily forms complexes with soil organic matter. To reduce copper complexation, apply seed-placed liquid copper at planting and follow with foliar copper in the first herbicide application. Liquid copper sources include dissolved copper sulfate and various chelated Cu products.

Soybean Iron Deficiency Chlorosis: Symptoms, Causes, and Management

 

Figure 1. Soybean plants with iron deficiency chlorosis symptoms. Note the newest leaves are yellow with indistinct green veins.

If soybean turns yellow during an early growth stage, you may have a case of soybean iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC). The distinctive yellow symptoms of soybean IDC often appear as soybean enters the first- to third-trifoliate leaf stage. Soybean IDC is characterized by distinct interveinal chlorosis (yellow leaf with green leaf veins) in the newest leaves and may result in substantial yield loss (Figure 1). Soybean IDC is not caused by low soil iron but instead caused by soil conditions that decrease iron uptake by soybean roots.

Soybean IDC risk and severity are primarily related to soil carbonate content (calcium carbonate equivalent, CCE) and worsened by salinity (electrical conductivity, EC) (Table 1). Soybean IDC is common in soybean-growing regions of the upper Midwest, northern Great Plains, and Canadian Prairies, where soils frequently have high carbonate and/or salinity (Figure 2). Within a field, IDC symptoms are usually confined to soybean IDC hotspots with high carbonate and salinity; however, symptoms may appear across a field if high carbonate and salinity are present throughout the field. Soybean IDC severity is made worse in cool, wet soils and soils with high residual nitrate-nitrogen. Soil pH is not a good indicator of soybean IDC risk because some high pH soils lack high carbonate and salinity, which are the two principal risk factors.

Table 1. Soybean iron deficiency chlorosis risk (IDC) risk potential based on soil carbonate content and salinity.
Calcium carbonate equivalent (CCE)
Salinity (EC 1:1), dS/m less than 2.5% 2.6 – 5.0% greater than 5%
less than 0.25 low low moderate
0.26 – 0.50 low moderate high
0.51 – 1.00 moderate high very high
greater than 1.00 very high very high extreme

Figure 2. Soil samples with high risk of soybean iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) in the northern Great Plains and upper Midwest.

Unlike a nitrogen or sulfur deficiency, soybean IDC is not correctable with an in-season fertilizer application. Foliar application of iron fertilizers, including FeEDDHA, may have short-term cosmetic effects, but foliar iron applications have not consistently increased soybean yield on IDC-affected plants. Chlorosis symptoms often alleviate naturally as environmental conditions improve (e.g. drier, warmer weather), but severe cases can persist and cause yield loss. North Dakota State University research has shown that IDC persisting into the fifth- and sixth-trifoliate leaf stage will significantly reduce soybean yield. For fields with historical soybean IDC problems, you should delineate soybean IDC hotspots for selective management using aerial or satellite imagery.

Guidelines for managing soybean IDC

  1. Soil test each field, zone, or grid for soil carbonate and salinity to evaluate soybean IDC risk potential (Table 1). This may require soil sampling prior to soybean (possibly outside of your usual soil sampling rotation) or consulting previous soil sampling records.
  2. Plant soybean in fields with low carbonate and salinity (principal soybean IDC risk factors).
  3. Choose an IDC tolerant soybean variety on fields with moderate to low carbonate and salinity.
  4. Plant soybean in wider rows. Soybean IDC tends to be less severe in wide-row spacings (plants are closer together) than narrow-row spacings or solid-seeded spacings.
  5. Apply chelated iron fertilizer (e.g., high quality FeEDDHA) in-furrow at planting. In-furrow FeEDDHA application may not be enough to help an IDC susceptible variety in high IDC risk soils (Figure 3).
  6. Avoid planting soybean on soils with very high IDC risk.

Figure 3. Soybean iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) severity is reduced with iron fertilization. However, IDC-tolerant soybean varieties are more effective. Research from Dr. R. Jay Goos, NDSU, 2000.