Growing Soybean crop nutrition advice

Everything you need to know about soybean fertilization, best practices, suitable products, field trials and more

Crop nutrition for growing soybean (Glycine max)

  • Annual crop belonging to family Fabaceae (Leguminosae).

  • Soybeans are a single-stemmed or lightly branched plant. In the leaf nodes, flowers are formed that will generate the pods.

  • Plants have a penetrating root system with rooting depth up to 6 feet. However, 60 to 70% of root mass occurs in the top 6-inches of soil.

  • Soybeans (and legumes) are unique in that they possess nodules which is where biological nitrogen fixation occurs.

  • Typical seed composition: oil (17% to 22%), protein (38% to 45%), and carbohydrates (30% to 35%).

  • The crop development stages are defined as: vegetative stage (described as VE to Vn) and reproductive stage (described as R1 to R8).

  • Soybean requires a well-drained loamy soil for proper growth. In compacted soils, the hypocotyl may break easily during emergence if under pressure. The root system will not be deep.

  • Better development between 68°F and 95°F. Temperature below 60°F can cause delayed germination and emergence, with increased potential for some diseases. Temperatures above 100°F have an adverse effect on the growth rate, increased flower abortion, and decreased capacity to retain pods. These problems are exacerbated by the occurrence of water deficits.

  • Water availability for high soybean yield is ideally 35% during the vegetative growth phase and 65% during the reproductive phase.

  • Lack of water for some days during flowering (dry spells) - dramatically reduction in yield, especially in sand soils and in areas where the root system is superficial due to calcium deficiency or aluminum toxicity in depth (In Brazilian Cerrado there are reports of losses ranging from 10 to 70% depending number of days with a lack of rain).

  • Dry weather is necessary for ripening.

Nutrient requirements 

Requirements in temperate region, Mollisols, USA 

Part of plantN
Grains 179155798101.60.563.51.32.0
Total (uptake)2451914110145174.60.912.15.34.8
% Grain Removal 73%81%41%9%18%59%34%62%30%25%42%

Source: Bender et al., 2015, USA. Average for 3 varieties and yield 3.4 t/ha


Dynamic of nutrient uptake over a crop season in soybean

Soybean has been grown in the most varied types of soil in the world, for example Molisols and Alfisols (neutral to alkaline, with high fertility) to Oxisols and Ultisols (acidic, with low fertility). It is important to correctly manage the fertility of each type of soil to seek profitable production for the producer. 

Very similar in terms of offtake nutrients in the regions, except to P, higher in grains in richer soils. 

Dynamic of nutrient uptake

  • Increment of uptake during pods and grain development
    • N, P, Ca and Mg – 50-55% of uptake until R4; 45-50% after)
    • S – 45% until R4 (55% after)
    • K – 50% until R2 (50% after)
  • Possible higher response to split fertilization in sandy soils (specially for K and S)

Source: Bender et al., 2015, USA. Average for 3 varieties and yield of approximately 60 bushels/A. 

Role of nutrients


Is the most important plant nutrient for the soybean crop, and the one that is required in largest quantity. 80 Kg of N is needed to produce 1000 kg of soybean.

  • Most of the requirements for N are covered by the nitrogen from the air through the symbiotic fixation by the Rhizobium bacteria in the nodules on the plant’s roots. 


Has a function in the plants directly related to energy storage.


Nutrient deficiencies

NitrogenTotal chlorosis of older leaves followed by necrosis. Low protein content in grains. In the absence of molybdenum (Mo) there is a deficiency of N.
PhosphorusPlants with reduced growth, low insertion of pods and older leaves with a bluish-green color.
PotassiumNecrosis on the edges and apex of old leaves, due to the formation of putrescine; the plant shows appearance of burning by fire, herbicides. Small, wrinkled and deformed grains with low vigor and low germination.
CalciumMembrane becomes “porous”, breaking cell compartments and losing selectivity for desirable ions and absorbing unwanted ions; growth points are affected, both root and shoot; symptoms appear in the younger parts of the plant, atrophying the root system, killing the apical bud; there is a delay in the emergence of primary leaves that, when they emerge, acquire a cup-like shape, called wrinkling. The petiole also collapses due to the disintegration of the cellulosic wall. These symptoms usually occur in acidic soils and are associated with Al and Mn toxicities.
MagnesiumThe older leaves show interveinal chlorosis (light yellow) and pale green veins.
SulfurUniform chlorosis, like N deficiency, but occurs in young leaves, whereas chlorosis due to N deficiency starts in older leaves.

Sources: Embrapa, Brazil; IPNI; IPI

Key aspects in nutrition and fertilization of soybean

Soybean requires a good nutrition for its growth and development – non- availability results in abnormal or sub-normal plant growth. Plants show characteristic nutrient deficiency symptoms.

Soybean is a high-protein crop and requires a large quantity of nitrogen (N) to synthesize aminoacids and protein (@ 80 kg N/t grains). The main source of N to crop is the biological nitrogen fixation (BNF), a. conversion in the root nodules of atmospheric N 2 into ammonium (NH 4 + ).

To improve the BNF and not need to apply nitrogen fertilizer, farmer must do the inoculation with Bradyrhizobium (minimum 1.2 million viable cells per seed).

Ideal pH range in soil is 5.5-7.0. The liming must be done to raise the pH of acidic soils above 5.5, providing Ca and Mg, neutralizing Al, increasing the efficiency of fertilization and BNF.

Soybean root system needs good calcium amount in soil profile and has low tolerance to high concentration aluminum in soil. To reduce orm eliminate Al toxicity and increase Ca in layers deeper than 20 cm must be used the gypsum (CaSO 4 ) or fertilizers containing it in its composition.

P and K presents in enough availability in soil.

In general, soil P level must be kept at least in 20 mg/dm3 or more. In slightly acidic to alkaline soils, where the more used extractors of P are Bray-1 and Olsen, the P2O5 rates vary from 20 to 90 kg/ha in function of the amount of in soil. On the other hand, in more acidic soils with a greater capacity for fixing P by iron and aluminum oxides, the main extractant is Mehlich-1, and the nutrient doses are higher, at least 60 kg/ha of P2O5, reaching values more than 150 kg/ha; in these cases, it is recommended to apply the part prior to planting (as a corrective) and the remainder during sowing. Water soluble fertilizers must be used to maintain the yield potential of crop, and the mais sources are single superphosphate (SSP), triple superphosphate (TSP) and MAP.

K level must be above 120 mg/dm3. The main source is KCL, but there are some alternatives sources to supply K and other macronutrients (for example Polyhalite to supply K, Ca, Mg and S). Rates are variable in function the amount of K in soil, from
50 kg/ha to 120 kg/ha of K2O.

In areas where the gypsum was not applied to reduce Al toxicity, sulfur should be applied together with PK fertilization. In Oxisols and Ultisols the suggested doses range from 3 to 5 kg per tons of grains produced. In Molisols and Alfisols usually without economic response in soils with high organic matter content, slightly acidic to alkaline. However, it is suggested to apply the nutrient in fields with a history of low productivity for crops such as alfalfa and corn, at doses ranging from 10-15 kg/ha of S

Ca and Mg are normally supplied by liming. However, in Oxisols with lower CTC, responses to the application of these nutrients through fertilizers with water solubility have shown a positive response. The suggestion would be to provide 15-20 kg/ha of Ca and 5-10 kg/ha of Mg.

Presence of micronutrients in fertilization, including Mo and Co to support biological nitrogen fixation. In acidic Oxisols and Ultisols the main deficiencies are boron (B), cooper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), manganese (Mn) and zinc (Zn), and the forms to application could be by seeds, soil or foliar. In Alkaline soils the main deficiencies are iron(Fe), manganese (Mn) and zinc (Zn).

Young soybean plants
Soybean crop rows

Soybean Trials

Polysulphate on Soybean
Mercedes, Corrientes, Argentina, 2017


Yield Increase
Soybean & Polysulphate
Lucas do Rio Verde, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, 2017


Yield Increase
Polysulphate on Soybean
Itapúa, Paraguay, 2018


Yield Increase