Is soybean yield limited by nitrogen supply?

Nicolas Cafaro La Menza, Juan Pablo Monzon, James E. Specht, Patricio Grassini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


As soybean yield continues to increase, it seems critical to know if there is a yield level at which potential contribution of indigenous nitrogen (N) sources (N fixation and soil mineralization) becomes insufficient to meet crop N requirements for high yields, while still maintaining or increasing protein and oil concentration. We have hypothesized that, in absence of other limiting factors, degree of N limitation increases with increasing yield potential (Yp) of the production environment. To test this hypothesis, we developed a novel protocol to ensure an ample N supply during the entire crop season (full-N treatment). That protocol was applied to field-grown irrigated soybean in Balcarce (Argentina) and Nebraska (USA), where measured full-N seed yields were ±15% of their simulated Yp in 92% of the cases. The combination of locations, years, sowing dates, and N treatments resulted in a wide range of seed yields, from 2.5 to 6.5 Mg ha−1. Overall, full-N seed yield averaged 11% higher than seed yield without N addition (zero-N). However, magnitude of yield difference between full-N and zero-N depended upon Yp, ranging from no detectable yield difference in low-Yp (ca. 2.5 Mg ha−1) to up to 900 kg ha−1 in high-Yp environments (ca. 6 Mg ha−1). Seed yield differences were associated with higher aboveground dry matter, seed number, and seed weight in the full-N versus zero-N treatments. Seed protein (but not oil) concentration was higher in the full-N treatment, and both protein and oil yields were higher in the full-N versus zero-N treatments. Findings from this study indicate that (i) N limits soybean seed yield (as well as protein yield, and oil yield) in environments with high Yp, where indigenous N sources seem insufficient to fully satisfy crop N requirements, and (ii) yield response to N fertilizer can occur above a 2.5 Mg ha−1 Yp threshold and has an upper limit of 250 kg seed per Mg increase in Yp.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-212
Number of pages9
JournalField Crops Research
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Nitrogen
  • Oil
  • Protein
  • Soybean
  • Yield potential

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


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