Do Starters Help Soybean Emergence?

Corn growers are very familiar with starter fertilizers. Soybean growers, on the other hand, don’t use starters as often. Farmers demand to see positive results from the products they use, and soybeans have traditionally had a tougher time with starter fertilizers. Let's understand why.

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Soybeans are particularly susceptible to salt damage from starters.

For beginners, most common nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) fertilizers contain a harmful level of salts. In fact, salt is especially harmful to soybean seeds during germination. Even when using an NPK fertilizer with a low salt level, you have to be very careful during application to avoid seed damage, which ultimately will hurt germination—and your chance of seeing a positive return on investment for that product due to lost yield potential.

Before we go any further, let’s summarize what many years of testing on over 20 products and product combinations have taught us: You should use a starter fertilizer on your soybean crop. However, as our research has shown, AgRevival believes that it’s vital you choose a starter that delivers acceptable ROI. Not all products deliver a significant ROI or any ROI at all. Why? Because you can’t neglect soybean biology when formulating a soybean starter.

As a soybean seed pushes toward the surface, it loses its protective coating. With the coating gone, the cotyledon—the very first leaves to appear from the seed—can be damaged by salts found in NPK fertilizers. In addition to seed damage, salt can also harm the microbial life living in the soil, which ultimately leads to fewer available nutrients for the young plants. This is why we’ve found it necessary to place NPK starters beneath or off to the side of planted seeds, as a soil barrier offers some protection against salt. 

Which starters are most effective on soybeans? 

Since 2011, Ag Revival has tested over 20 starter fertilizer products and product combinations on soybeans. For our in-furrow research, we’ve focused on products with no salt or as little salt as possible. We wanted to know which products would improve germination, speed emergence, and establish a more uniform crop. In short, which products would give you, the farmer, the best return on your investment. To calculate the ROI data you see below, we used a $9.79 per-bushel price, the most recent 2018 product prices, and average performance data from the past three research years. Here are two examples from our research:

In second place is a 6-24-6 fertilizer (3 gallons diluted in 3 gallons of water) that brought an $0.83 per-acre ROI, an additional 1.2 bu/ac, and a 95% germination rate. 

In first place is CarbonWorks Restore®, a carbon-based starter. With this product, we saw a $23.06 per-acre ROI, an additional 4.5 bu/ac, and a 98.5% germination rate.

Results from the top-performing soybean starters - CarbonWorks Restore and 6-24-6
Chart 1: Performance data from the top-performing starters based on a 3-year average.

Why such a dramatic difference in soybean starter performance?

At AgRevival, we don’t just gather data, we want to understand why a product works. So what drove our first-place soybean starter to the front of the pack? Unlike the NPK starters, CarbonWorks Restore delivers energy in the form of hydrogen and oxygen to the seeds (and the soil) using carbon. And it didn’t matter how we applied it—either directly on the seed or with a slight soil barrier—because there were no salts involved. 

Above all, your starter needs to be safe for the soybean seeds.

We look at starter fertilizers differently at AgRevival. We don’t believe that you need an NPK fertilizer as part of your starter nutritional program. Above all, your starter needs to be safe for the soybean seeds. Each seed is pulling energy from its fuel tank as it reaches for the surface. And once there, when photosynthesis and nutrient uptake begins, it’s vital to have strong early root development to maximize the benefits of this process. When you use a starter that delivers energy and oxygen to the seeds, you promote faster emergence and early-root development, which leads to the proper amount of nutrient uptake. This in turn promotes stronger plants, more complete stands, and a better start towards banner yields.

The examples above are a small sample of our in-furrow soybean research findings.  You can review our complete findings below. If you have questions regarding the studies performed, products, or other agronomy-related questions, I encourage you to reach out to us by commenting below or by going to our contact page.


For more information, see the publications below or contact AgRevival.

Research Publications: