Soybean Row Spacing and Planting Rate Effects on Litter Decomposition
Sustainable Production
Field management Nutrient managementSoil healthTillageYield trials
Lead Principal Investigator:
Jarrod Miller, University of Delaware
Co-Principal Investigators:
Project Code:
Contributing Organization (Checkoff):
Institution Funded:
Brief Project Summary:
The residue from previous crops holds soil in place and stores organic matter and nutrients. Residue can suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture, but it can also harbor pests and influence the release of nitrogen and other nutrients to crops. This project takes a fresh look at how it breaks down in the following soybean crop. Trials compare decomposition of corn crop residue and a rye cover crop terminated two weeks before planting across soybean plots at different planting densities and row spacings. The goal is to link soybean planting practices to residue management and yield to help farmers decide how best to maximize the benefits of decomposing residue.
Key Beneficiaries:
#agronomists, #Extension agents, #farmers
Unique Keywords:
#crop management systems, #decomposition, #nutrient release, #residue, #soil health
Information And Results
Project Summary

Cover crops have been rapidly adopted in Delaware, with cereal rye being a popular option for soybean production. The benefits of a rye mulch is weed suppression and soil moisture conservation, but may also cause increased pest presence and disrupt the release of nitrogen (N) to cash crops. While soybeans may not be as affected by the N cycle as corn, the mineralization and release of N in rye may also provide supplemental N to the plant mid-season. These fields may also include corn fodder from the previous cropping year, which will continue to breakdown through the soybean growing season, providing some carbon the soil surface. What is not currently known is now soybean populations and row spacing may affect the decomposition of residues on the soil surface. Earlier canopy may preserve soil moisture, allowing for increased residue decomposition, or may increase evapotranspiration reducing overall soil moisture. This study will take the first steps in measuring decomposition of residues under soybean planting densities.

Project Objectives

1) Plant full season soybeans into a rye cover crop at five populations and two row spacings.

2) Use decomposition bags to measure breakdown of corn fodder and rye biomass under different soybean management.

3) Track soil moisture and temperature under the soybean canopy

Project Deliverables

Soybeans will be planted at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, DE into a rye cover crop. The cover crop will be terminated two weeks prior to planting, like most field practices. Soybeans will be planted at five densities (80, 100, 120, 140, 160 thousand seeds per acre) and two row spacings (15 and 30 inch) and irrigated throughout the season. Ten subsamples across a gradient will be compared to drone imagery to estimate total field rye biomass. Terminated rye biomass will be collected from outside the plot boundaries and corn fodder will be collected from fields at the research center. Biomass will be separated into decomposition bags for each plot (30 rye and 30 corn fodder), weighed, and placed back into the planted plots in the center of a row. Three subsamples of each will be dried and saved to determine the initial carbon (C), N, and moisture content of the biomass. At the end of the season decomposition bags will be collected from the plots, dried, weighed, and analyzed for C, N, and the biomass loss. In three population plots (80, 120, 160), logging sensors will be placed in the 15 and 30” rows to measure EC, moisture, and temperature throughout the season. Yields will be collected with a plot combine in the late fall.

Data will be analyzed in SAS as a randomized complete block design structured by a factorial including biomass loss, changes in C and N, as well as yield. Yield will also be correlated to various predictors from the study.

Progress Of Work

Updated July 28, 2023:
A rye cover crop field was managed over the winter months an burned down in May 2023. Between cover crop planting and termination, a drone was used to monitor growth by creating NDVI maps. Prior to burndown, rye biomass was sampled across the field to correlate growth with the NDVI maps produced. Soybeans were then planted into the terminated rye at populations between 60 to 180,000 seeds per acre and in 15 and 30 inch row spacings. Following emergence, soil moisture and temperature sensors were placed in three 15 inch and three 30 inch row spacing plots to monitor conditions through the season. Drone flights have continued through the summer season and plots were monitored for emergence and deer damage, which has been minimal. Irrigation and herbicide applications have been performed as necessary.

Updated December 19, 2023:
For the soybean spacing project, plots were maintained through early fall with irrigation as necessary as well as hand weeding for palmer and other weeds. Weekly checks of the moisture sensors as well as drone flights were also performed up until harvest. A heavy storm in October causes earlier defoliation, with final harvest occurring in early November. Prior to harvest, decomposition bags were removed, dried, and weighed before being shipped to the University of Delaware Soil Testing Lab. An initial analyses will be presented at the 2024 Delaware Ag Week.

Final Project Results

Benefit To Soybean Farmers

The United Soybean Research Retention policy will display final reports with the project once completed but working files will be purged after three years. And financial information after seven years. All pertinent information is in the final report or if you want more information, please contact the project lead at your state soybean organization or principal investigator listed on the project.