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Farmers Giving Soybeans More Nutrients and Pesticides, USDA Says

Farmers are feeding soybeans more fertilizer and pesticides, according to the latest Ag Chemical Usage report released by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The organization only surveys specific crops every few years, and soybeans were studied in 2015.

Nutrients Applied

In the 2015 crop year, phosphate was applied to 39% of planted soybean acres — an increase of 2% since 2012 when soybeans were last observed by the USDA. The nutrient was applied at an average rate of 51 pounds per acre for the year, a 2-pound increase since 2012. Last year, an additional 233.8 million pounds of phosphate were used across the 19 main soybean states compared with the 2012 total quantity.

According to the report, a powerful 2,503.5 million pounds of potash was applied to U.S. soybean fields in 2015. At an average rate of 83 pounds per acre for the year, 38% of planted soybean acres had potash applied. From 2012 to 2015, U.S. soybean farmers increased the amount of potash they were applying by 288.8 million pounds.

“Similar to phosphates, this has been a long-term trend of slow growth as yields have been growing, and the more production you take off the field, the more nutrients you have to replace,” says David Asbridge, senior economist and president of NPK Fertilizer Advisory Service.

Even though soybeans produce their own nitrogen, farmers are still upping the quantity they’re applying. Last year nitrogen was applied to 28% of planted soybean acres, an increase from 27% in 2012 and 61.2 million pounds more than was applied then.

“This was a bit surprising in that 2012 had a very good spring for application while 2015 had some wet weather issues that would typically cause application rates to fall,” says Asbridge of farmers’ tendency to want to start crops off with a little nitrogen boost, especially in cool soils. 

Keeping Pests Away

Of the total U.S. planted soybean acres, 96% had herbicides applied in 2015 which is less than was applied in 2012 when 98% of total soybean acres applied herbicides. Insecticides, on the other hand, have become more popular. In 2015, 22% of total soybean acres applied insecticides as opposed to 18% in 2012. The rate of application for fungicides remained the same at 11%.

Two types of glyphosate were the most widely used herbicides — glyphosate potassium salt, which was applied on 55% of planted soybean acres, and glyphosate isopropylamine salt, which was applied to 30%. Following the glyphosates were sulfentrazone with 17%, fomesafen sodium with 16%, and chlorimuron ethyl with 12%. 

Numbers have gone up for all four listed types of pest-management practices listed in the report. An impressive 90% of planted soybean acres are practicing avoidance by rotating crops within the last three years — rising 6% since 2012. An even bigger increase of 7% was seen in the prevention category of pest management that now reports 74% of planted soybean acres are using no-till or minimum-till.

Suppression became a much more popular practice for avoiding pests since 2012 when 35% of planted soybean acres maintained ground covers, mulches, or other physical barriers and now 44% of total acres use this practice. The percentage of soybean acres using monitoring (scouting for weeds) remained a steady 94%.  

It’ll be at least another year before the NASS evaluates ag chemical use in corn, but when corn was studied in 2014, it was found that 97% of planted corn acres applied herbicides, while only 13% applied insecticides and 12% applied fungicides.

For more information, see the report highlights

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