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Restricted soybean roots make for hanging baskets of soybeans

Restricted soybean roots make for hanging baskets of soybeans

What soil compaction and restricted rooting means for soybeans

Hanging baskets of petunias line the front porches of many houses. Their roots are bound to the constraints of the basket, and they need consistent watering to thrive.

Likewise, many soybeans have restricted roots this year. Mother Nature will need to nurse them along with timely rains to reach full yield potential. Otherwise, slight increases in temperatures and/or reduction in rainfall will drive soybeans to survive rather than thrive.

Related: Indiana corn struggles with micronutrient uptake, rapid growth syndrome

Poor spots could be compacted: Note the uneven appearance of this field. The place green spots could be due to restricted root growth. (Photo courtesy of Shaun Casteel)

The story starts with delayed harvests and continues through spring planting conditions. It was cold and wet through April. Compaction was created with harvest activities as well as fertilizer applications, marginal tillage passes and weed control applications.

Tillage pans were created in addition to soil compaction caused by tire traffic. No-till fields aren't out of the woods either. Heavy corn residue and the cool, wet spring prolonged time for soil to warm-up and dry-out. Seedbed conditions were variable with many seeds placed in the furrow with sidewall compaction and others with open seed slots.

This long list of field activities created poor soil conditions that restricted development of soybean roots and water movement. In essence, we created a "field-scale flower pot" that is physically impeding root development. The tillage pan and tire compaction limits downward growth of roots; while, sidewall compaction inhibits lateral extension of roots. Hopefully, Mother Nature can nurse these plants along with timely rains to grease the skid for root penetration.

Related: Growers have a new tool for fighting sudden death syndrome in soybeans

Soybean plants can express nutrient deficiencies, such as manganese and potassium, during this month. Nutrient demands increase dramatically with continued vegetative growth while pods develop and seeds fill.

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Now, we factor in restricted roots. Think of it as "sealed off" soil pores via compaction. Expression of nutrient deficiencies increases. Fields with adequate fertility can display deficiency symptoms if roots and water movement are restricted. 

As we scout and drive past fields this month, poor looking soybeans, either pockets or whole fields, will be on display. We need to examine the roots. My hope is Mother Nature does not forget to water our hanging basket of soybeans.


For farmers to maximize soybean yields, they need to maximize their management. Often soybean management takes a backseat to corn, but it doesn't have to. Download our free report, Boost Your Soybean Yield, for a one-stop look at ways you can better manage your crop.


Casteel is the Purdue University Extension soybean specialist. Her writes from West Lafayette. Follow 'Soybean Success' stories monthly in Indiana Prairie Farmer.

TAGS: Extension
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