Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Adding value to soybeans: Do growth-promoting seed treatments make a difference?

Various products that promote soybean growth are being measured in Maryland test plots. The commercially available products tested include plant hormones, fertilizer, humic acids and more. Photo courtesy Andrew Kness.

By Carol Brown

Farmers are always seeking ways to improve their crops that will attain the ultimate goal of higher yield.  To achieve this goal, they grow plant varieties that are tolerant to insect and disease, able to withstand flood or drought, produce a more nutritional product, or all of the above.

Today’s agricultural industry includes products on the market to help with all of these components. Andrew Kness, a plant pathologist and extension agent at the University of Maryland, is studying soybean potential using several commercially available products.

“Everybody’s looking for that extra bushel here and there,” Kness said. “We’re conducting field research on soybeans using different products that claim to make soybeans grow better. Some of the products contain plant hormones, some have fertilizer, sugar, humic acids and other additives of interest to Maryland growers.”

Kness is comparing untreated soybean plots to plots with Take Off® LS, Take Off ST, Monty’s® Carbon and Agri-Sweet™ products. These are foliar-applied or seed treatment products. The research project is in the middle of the second growing season and is supported by the Maryland Soybean Board.

“If you look at the body of research data, not a lot has been done on products like these, partly because academia can’t keep pace with commercial release,” Kness said. “Companies keep coming up with the latest and greatest thing and it takes time to conduct the research to prove their worth.”

In 2019, Kness focused on eight product studies; this year he’s got 10 in the research project. The goal is to see how well they work and whether they improve yield.

“These products aren’t going to apply to every acre or every situation, but if we can narrow down as to where these products have utility, then growers could be able to strategically use the products,” he said.

In 2019, Kness noticed a positive response to the Take Off seed treatment, which claims growth promotion and plant growth regulation. In the plot that was planted earlier and into cooler soils, he found greater soybean emergence and an increased stand.

“This year in the same plot, the trend was similar. We planted even earlier and into almost too-wet soil. We theorize that the Take Off treated seeds do help the plants get off to a better start,” Kness said.

An added component to this year’s research is to conduct similar experiments in growth chambers to have more control over temperature. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this experiment is getting a delayed start. The experiment will include Take Off treated soybeans planted in a series starting in 45 degrees F up to 65 degrees to evaluate a temperature effect.

Kness noted from last year’s data that although the seed treatment plots improved early soybean establishment, it didn’t translate into a yield difference. He will see whether this is the case after this year’s harvest is measured. The economics of using these products will be the next leg of the study.

“If farmers are not seeing a significant increase in yield then it really doesn’t matter the associated cost; they’ve lost money,” he said. “We’ll be exploring this in more depth to see how many bushels are needed to consider these additives successful.”

Published: Sep 9, 2020

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.