Elevating Soybean Yields: Starter Fertilizers & Early Season Growth

Agronomist Dr. Jason Haegele explores the pivotal role of early season growth in optimizing soybean production, digging into starter fertilizers and biostimulants.

April 18, 2024
4 mins
Dr. Jason Haegele
North American Agronomy Lead, ICL Growing Solutions

As an agronomist deeply invested in the success of our soybean farmers, I am constantly exploring innovative strategies to optimize crop yields. One key aspect that cannot be overlooked is the crucial role of starter fertilizers in soybean production and the undeniable impact of early season growth on yield outcomes. Starter fertilizers provide a nutritional boost to young soybean plants, helping them overcome early growth challenges and set the stage for healthy development throughout the growing season.

Why consider starter fertilizers for soybeans?

  • Early Growth Boost: Depending on the planting date, the transition to reproductive development can occur quickly. Starters provide essential nutrients for rapid root development and early vegetative growth.
  • Phosphorus Needs: Soybeans have a shallow root system, requiring high phosphorus levels (close to the seed), especially in the early stages, for energy transfer and root establishment.
  • Soil Conditions: Starter fertilizers can provide a concentrated source of essential nutrients, ensuring that the young soybean plants have access to what they need for optimal growth, even in less-than-ideal soil conditions.
  • Maximizing Yield Potential: Soybean’s early growth stages are critical for determining final yield. Starting the season strong can help maximize yield potential by promoting vigorous early growth.

Unlocking Potential with Starter Fertilizers

Starter fertilizers serve as the foundation for robust soybean plants, providing essential nutrients during the critical early stages of growth. These fertilizers offer a strategic boost to root development, ensuring young plants have access to the nutrients necessary for healthy establishment and vigorous growth. Starter fertilizers like 10-34-0 and high orthophosphate options such as 9-18-9 are the go-to choices for many farmers, thanks to their accessibility and proven effectiveness across various crops.

But it’s not just about providing nutrients; it’s about delivering them at the right time and in the right form. Starters aren’t intended to meet a crop’s full-season nutrient needs, which raises an interesting question… Can we achieve comparable or even superior results with reduced phosphorus in starter applications? I think the answer is yes. Recent advancements in starter fertilizers have expanded our options beyond traditional choices, offering tailored solutions that address specific soil conditions and crop needs.

Proven Solutions in Soybeans

  • ICL’s Nova® PeKacid™ 0-60-20, an innovative water-soluble fertilizer, is remarkable for its unique ability to acidify water and reduce soil pH, enhancing nutrient compatibility and phosphorus availability, even in water with high dissolved calcium levels. Also available in liquid form (Nova® PeKacid LQ 0-27-9) depending on operational needs.
  • Agrolution® pHLow™ 11-45-11 +2%Zn, this high-phosphorus starter, fortified with zinc, delivers a well-balanced nutrient mix crucial for early-season plant growth. Field trials across corn, soybeans, and potatoes consistently show comparable or superior responses to grower standard rates of 10-34-0, achieving both efficiency and yield despite lower early-season P levels. ICL also has a solubilized, concentrated form of our Agrolution pHLow®, perfect for starter fertilizer applications—Nova® PeKacid LQ 4-17-4.
  • ICL’s newest product, BIOZ Diamond™ 10-0-1 biostimulant, includes fulvic acid and a yeast extract. Trials show it is flexible enough to be used alone, or in combination with a starter fertilizer, like Agrolution pHLow, to successfully boost soybean yields.
  • Polysulphate, the natural mineral polyhalite, offers a gradual release source of sulfate-based S, Mg, Ca, and low-chloride K in one OMRI-approved granule. Appropriate for spring and fall broadcast or banded soil applications to set the stage for soybean yield potential, but also effective for top-dress applications to supply an in-season boost of secondary macronutrients and K.

Evidence-Based Insights on Early Season Growth

Why is early season growth so pivotal for soybean yields? The answer lies in the fundamental principle that a strong start sets the stage for success throughout the entire growing season. Research consistently shows that early-season growth is closely linked to final yield outcomes.

During the early stages of growth, soybean plants establish their root systems and lay the groundwork for future development. Adequate nutrient supply during this critical period is essential for maximizing yield potential and mitigating the risks associated with nutrient deficiencies or adverse environmental conditions.

Featured Trial

Agrolution pHLow and BIOZ on Soybean

  • Soil Type: Milford silty clay loam (pH 7.0, 4.5% organic matter, CEC 23.9, 42 ppm P, 141 ppm K, and 3.5 ppm Zn)
  • Grain Yield Increase: 9.3%
  • Location: Whitewater, WI
  • Result: BIOZ Diamond 10-0-1 combined with Agrolution pHLow can improve yields and P-use efficiency

🔗 Explore or download the trial.

Putting Theory into Practice

In our trials and field studies, we’ve been encouraged by the tangible benefits of starter fertilizers on soybean yields. We’ve observed improved root development, nutrient uptake efficiency, and overall plant health by providing targeted nutrition early in the season.

Moreover, our data reinforces the importance of investing in a combination of early-season solutions to optimize yield outcomes. Whether it’s through granular, water-soluble, or liquid formulations, the key is to select starter fertilizers and other starter-applied components, like biostimulants, that are tailored to the unique needs of your soil and crop.

Conclusion: A Path to Success

As we embark on another soybean growing season, let us not underestimate the power of early-season solutions and starter fertilizers. By adopting new methods, soybean growers can achieve strong early growth and better withstand environmental challenges, leading to a brighter future for their businesses. I encourage you to explore the diverse array of starter fertilizers available and leverage evidence-based insights to make informed decisions for your farms and nutrient management programs.

About Dr. Jason Haegele, North American Agronomy Lead, ICL Growing Solutions

Jason Haegele leads ICL’s research collaborations with universities and third-party research contractors in North America to demonstrate the efficacy of ICL products on a broad range of row crops and specialty crops. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (Ph.D. in Crop Science) and Iowa State University (M.S., Crop Production and Physiology), is a Certified Crop Advisor, and has a broad range of experience in applied research and field sales support for plant nutrition, adjuvant, crop protection, and biological products.