Managing soil pH for optimal soybean production

Soybean producers should pay closer attention to managing soil pH when striving for higher yields and greater profitability.

Managing soil pH in the optimal range is essential to producing high-yielding and profitable soybeans. The first step to managing soil pH is a good soil testing program. A representative soil sample measures the soil pH and the buffer pH or lime index. The soil pH identifies the need for lime and the buffer pH or lime index is used to determine how much lime to apply.

Soybeans will generally perform well at soil pH levels between 6.0 and 7.0. However, the optimal range is between 6.3 and 6.5 as this range maximizes nutrient availability and biological nitrogen fixation while minimizing soybean cyst nematode (SCN) population growth. When soil pH levels exceed 6.5, manganese deficiency symptoms can occur in lakebed and outwash soils and SCN populations have been shown to increase (Table 1).

Table 1. Relationship between soil pH and final soybean cyst
nematode population density at harvest

Soil pH Range





Soybean cyst nematode eggs/100 cc of soil

















Source: C. Grau, N. Kurtweil and G. Tylka, “Soil pH Influences Soybean
Disease Potential Summary”

When selecting a liming product, consider the magnesium soil test level. Dolomitic lime supplies magnesium to the soil and should be applied whenever any one of the following is true.

  • Magnesium soil test level is below 35 ppm on coarse-textured soils and below 50 ppm on fine-textured soils.
  • Magnesium is less than 3 percent of the exchangeable bases on an equivalence basis.
  • Potassium exceeds magnesium as a percent of the exchangeable bases on an equivalence basis.

The lime recommendation on the soil test report should be adjusted whenever the lime material has a neutralizing value much different than 90 (less than 80 or more than 100). Use the following formula to make this adjustment:

(90 ÷ neutralizing value of your liming material) x lime recommendation listed on the soil test report = adjusted lime recommendation

The performance of all liming materials is improved when they are incorporated into the soil. Incorporation increases the distribution and soil contact of the lime particles. Surface applications should be limited to long-term, no-till sites as lime moves slowly through the soil (less than 1 inch per year).

The lime recommendation should also be adjusted for the effective tillage depth using the following formula and the information in Table 2.

Lime recommendation x the effective tillage depth ÷ 9 = adjusted lime recommendation

Table 2. Effective tillage depth for various tillage systems

Tillage tool

Effective tillage depth

Chisel Plow

1/2 to 2/3 the operating depth

Field Cultivator

1/2 to 2/3 the operating depth

No-till or topdress

4 inches

Variable rate lime application based on grid sampling is an effective way to apply lime. This technology ensures that the lime is applied to only the areas where it is needed. This will help prevent over-liming, which can cause manganese deficiency symptoms to show up in soybeans.

This article was produced by the SMaRT project (Soybean Management and Research Technology). The SMaRT project was developed to help Michigan producers increase soybean yields and farm profitability. The SMaRT project is a partnership between MSU Extension and the Michigan Soybean Checkoff program.

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