Foliar feeding soybeans and PFR Proven

By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean checkoff

Becks PFR Research investigates many production practices that farmers face and provides valuable information back to growers considering these practices.

“PFR Proven means a product or practice has been tested for three years and has shown a positive yield response and positive return on investment for all three years,” said Steve Gauck, Regional Agronomy Manager for the East for Becks.

Gauck recently presented at Becknology Days and discussed the attributes of foliar feeding soybeans.

“Just seven to eight years ago foliar feeding crops did not always have consistent results and the term snake oil was often used to describe the products used. Over time we have learned that there can be some advantages to correctly foliar feeding a crop. Foliar fertilization should not be used as a substitute for good soil fertility management. Foliar feeding can be a good addition however,” Gauck said. “Soil fertilization is more efficient and safer than foliar application. The use of foliar application comes into play in the hot and dry summer months. Plant roots grow and function best at cooler soil temperatures and take in nutrients from the water in the soil. They are less efficient in the summer, but that is when a foliar application can be a good addition.”

It is important to identify the goals of foliar feeding a crop before making an application.

“Is the goal to help with a nutrient deficiency? Foliar feeding can do that. Did you take a tissue test, and what did the results tell you?  Is the goal to enhance yield?” Gauck said. “If a farmer is going to foliar feed a crop, they need to begin with the basics and get those correct. Those include the water, spray volume, time of day, growth stage of the crop, and identifying which nutrients are needed.

“Water is the largest component in a foliar application that touches the plant. Hard water with a high pH will negatively impact the effectiveness of foliar products. Different water sources can have different impacts on the effectiveness of the foliar feed. Becks PFR conducted a three-year multi-location water conditioning study. Each location of the water conditioning study for soybeans showed that the products tested performed differently depending on the water. The water pH needs to be corrected so any antagonism is eliminated.”

The time of day of the foliar application is also important to consider.

“Dew on the leaves at the time of application is worth about 160 gallons of carrier,” Gauck said. “That is important when we are considering when a foliar application is made. For soybeans, it is PFR proven to apply foliar fertilizer products and fungicides in the morning. For weed control, it is better to apply in the afternoon after the dew has dried.”

Carrier rates follow a similar concept for both fungicides and foliar feeding.

“We know that fungicides do not translocate through a plant very well, but they do translocate through the leaves. Nutrients will translocate through the plant. If we can feed the plant without it needing to expend any energy in the process, we will increase the yield,” Gauck said. “We need to look at 20 gallons of carrier for soybean foliar feeding.”

PFR is looking at the application of sugars, and products containing Macro and Micronutrients, including Zinc, Manganese, Boron, Calcium, and Sulfur. It is investigating the application of Fulvic Acid, which is a strong chelator and an antioxidant. Studies are also finding that foliar feeds derived from potassium acetate are more likely to be absorbed by the plant. Adjuvant technologies are designed to help get more of a foliar nutrient into the plant. Those adjuvants that successfully increase the speed of absorption and moisture retention typically perform more consistently.   

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