, Volume 141, Issue 1-2, pp 119-135

Potential for increasing biological nitrogen fixation in soybean

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Abstract

The importance of soybean as a source of oil and protein, and its ability to grow symbiotically on low-N soils, point to its continued status as the most valuable grain legume in the world. With limited new land on which to expand, and emphasis on sustainable systems, increases in soybean production will come mostly from increased yield per unit area. Improvements in biological nitrogen fixation can help achieve increased soybean production, and this chapter discusses research and production strategies for such improvement.

The soybean-Bradyrhizobium symbiosis can fix about 300 kg N ha-1 under good conditions. The factors which control the amount of N fixed include available soil N, genetic determinants of compatibility in both symbiotic partners and lack of other yield-limiting factors. Response to inoculation is controlled by the level of indigenous, competing bradyrhizobia, the N demand and yield potential of the host, and N availability in the soil.

Research efforts to improve BNF are being applied to both microbe and soybean. While selection continues for effective, naturally occurring bradyrhizobia for inoculants and the use of improved inoculation techniques, genetic research on bradyrhizobia to improve effectiveness and competitiveness is advancing. Selection, mutagenesis and breeding of the host have focused on supernodulation, restricted nodulation of indigenous B. japonicum, and promiscuous nodulation with strains of bradyrhizobia from the ‘cowpea’ cross-inoculation group. The research from the host side appears closer to being ready for practical use in the field.

Existing knowledge and technology still has much to offer in improving biological nitrogen fixation in soybean. The use of high-quality inoculants, and education about their benefits and use can still make a significant contribution in many countries. The importance of using the best adapted soybean genotype with a fully compatible inoculant cannot be overlooked, and we need to address other crop management factors which influence yield potential and N demand, indirectly influencing nitrogen fixation. The implementation of proven approaches for improving nitrogen fixation in existing soybean production demands equal attention as received by research endeavours to make future improvements.