Soybean School

Soybean’s Relationship Status with Phosphorus: It’s Complicated

Soybeans are serious consumers of phosphorus, so it seems logical that supplying P fertilizer would be important for maximizing soybean yields, right?

That’s wrong, at least in the short-term, according to research results in southern Manitoba.

Researchers from the University of Manitoba and Manitoba Agriculture are comparing how soybeans respond to three rates of P2O5 fertilizer (20, 40 and 80 pounds) applied three different ways (broadcast, seed-placed and side-banded.)

“We haven’t seen any response to phosphorus fertilizer,” explains Gustavo Bardella, a grad student at the U of M, in this Soybean School episode filmed at the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers recent SMART field day. Bardella, who hails from Brazil, is leading the soybean and phosphorus management study in Manitoba.

After collecting 18 site years of data since 2013, the only impact they’ve seen from phosphorus fertilizer was a reduced plant stand in two of the plots when high rates were applied with the seed in coarse-textured soils. Even in plots with low soil test P, there wasn’t any noticeable yield bump from phosphorus fertilizer.

“In sites with soil tests as low as 3 ppm Olson P, the control plot where we didn’t apply any phosphorus had a very good yield, as high as the other plots where we applied some fertilizer,” says Bardella.

And yet, soybeans are known to be heavy phosphorus users, he explains, removing almost a pound of phosphate from the soil per bushel (>0.85lb P2O5/bu).

So where do soybeans find the phosphorus they need, especially during the later reproductive stages (as shown in graph)?

(source: Don Flaten, presentation at Manitoba Ag Days 2015)

They are efficient phosphorus scavengers, explains Bardella, converting phosphorus in the soil to a usable form, particularly during the crop’s reproductive stages when nitrogen fixation peaks: “The plant starts releasing protons and those protons can release the phosphorus absorbed in the soil, and we have lots of those types of phosphorus here. That’s how (the plants) get phosphorus that’s not showing up in soil tests,” he says, noting there’s also some P made accessible through the soybeans’ association with mycorrhizae in the soil.