Dr. David Kee

Tools of the Trade: Soil Amendments and Plant Nutrition

David Kee, MN Soybean Director of Research

I recently attended the poster section of the American Society of Agronomy and visited mainly with the student authors. These young people were very excited about their results. Several of the papers investigated the use of a wide variety of soil amendments.

Many were by-products of the industry, bio-waste generated from our cities, animal wastes from agricultural operations and various products generated by other human activities. These brilliant young minds had devised numerous solutions to our problems, and we need to be aware of them.

Biochar has become a buzz word around the Minnesota Soybean building. The product has the potential to increase soil pH, reduce plant available aluminum, increase cation exchange capacity (CEC), reduce ammonium leaching and perform other amazing things in the soil. My question to you, what problems do you have?

In most Minnesota soybean fields, soil pH is optimal or too high, aluminum level is low, CEC is moderate to high and nitrate leaches, not ammonium. Is Biochar a solution for your problems?

The same situation can be found with other products. Turkey litter can be an amazing product. Untimely applied turkey litter at excessively high rates becomes a pollution problem. Circulating fluidized bed ash (by-product of electrical generation) does a great job increasing soil pH, reducing soil aluminum levels, increasing a lot of micronutrient availability to plants and increasing sulfur content in soil. In the Minnesota soybean fields, soil pH is not very low, aluminum levels are low, there has not been a consistent positive response to increasing all micronutrient levels and sulfur is often optimal.

This brings me to my point. New products, new uses, new solutions will always be a part of your future. Ask yourself – what are my problems? If the solution does not solve your problem, then it isn’t a solution for you.