Proper storage and handling is particularly important when using a soybean inoculant, says Vince Wertman, regional manager for Advanced Biological Marketing. Wertman, who was a session speaker at the 2012 Illinois Soybean Summit, quips that "microbiology is cheap labor." That is, inoculants have the potential to supply valuable nutrients and suppress certain diseases throughout the entire season.
But soybean inoculants can die before the crop is ever planted if they aren’t treated with care.
"These are things you do not want to do unless you want to throw your money away and have a dead product on your seed," Wertman says.
First, store inoculants in proper conditions – cool, dry and out of sunlight.
"We wouldn’t buy a gallon of milk and put it in the pickup truck, roll up the windows and let it sit there for a week and expect to drink it afterwards," Wertman says. "Inoculants are the same way."
Chlorinated water is another common accidental killer of inoculants, Wertman says. He suggests working with your local Culligan or water-treatment facility to install a de-chlorination unit on site.
Poor coverage is also key, he says. If the proper amount of inoculum is not on the seed, it can’t get the job done. Nor can it do an adequate job too far underground. The proper soybean planting depth is one inch, he says, but farmers who don’t change their planter settings after corn will likely be planting much too deep.
The rhizobium are sensitive to drought, but flooded fields are just as hostile, he says. That’s because the rhizobium need air to live, so saturated soils can suffocate them.
Finally, don’t forget that inoculants have expiration dates: "Some of them are one year, some of them are two years. You need to check expirations dates and make sure you have fresh product if you’re going to use a biological application."