what causes low test weight in soybeans



Soybeans, a versatile legume, are commonly grown for their high protein content and oil. However, soybean growers often face the challenge of low test weight, which refers to the weight of soybeans per unit volume. Low test weight not only affects the market value of soybeans but also indicates potential issues in crop yield and quality. In this article, we will delve into the various factors that can cause low test weight in soybeans, exploring both environmental and management factors. Understanding these causes is essential for soybean farmers to implement effective strategies to improve test weight and optimize their crop production.

Causes of Low Test Weight in Soybeans

1. Environmental Factors

Environmental factors play a significant role in determining soybean test weight. Here are some of the key factors that can contribute to low test weight:

Drought Stress: Soybeans require adequate moisture throughout their growth stages. Insufficient rainfall during pivotal stages, such as pod filling, can lead to reduced test weight. Drought stress affects the development and filling of soybean seeds, resulting in lower weight per unit volume.

Too Much Rainfall: On the contrary, excessive rainfall at crucial stages of soybean development can also impact test weight. Heavy rainfall during pod filling can cause seed abortion, poor pod development, and increased disease susceptibility, all of which can contribute to lower test weight.

Extreme Temperatures: Extreme temperatures, both high and low, can negatively affect soybean test weight. High temperatures during flowering can hamper pollination and reduce seed set, thus lowering test weight. Conversely, cold stress during the reproductive stages can also lead to poor pod development and reduced seed weight.

Non-optimal Light Conditions: Insufficient or excessive sunlight exposure can impact soybean test weight. Low light conditions can limit photosynthesis and hinder carbohydrate production required for seed development. On the other hand, excessive light, particularly during the late pod-filling stage, can result in excessive transpiration and reduced seed filling, leading to decreased test weight.

Environmental factors are often beyond a grower's control; however, implementing strategies such as irrigation management, selecting suitable varieties, and employing proper crop rotation can help mitigate the impact of these factors on test weight.

2. Genetic Factors

The genetic makeup of soybean varieties can significantly influence test weight. Different varieties have varying levels of inherent resistance or susceptibility to factors that contribute to low test weight. The following genetic factors can influence test weight in soybeans:

Seed Size: The physical size of the soybean seed can influence test weight. Generally, larger seeds tend to have a higher test weight compared to smaller seeds. Varieties with larger seed sizes may have an advantage in achieving higher test weights under similar growing conditions.

Plant Type: Soybean varieties vary in plant structure and architecture, which can impact the availability of light and airflow within the canopy. Dense canopies may limit sunlight penetration, negatively affecting test weight. Choosing varieties with an open canopy structure can promote better light penetration and airflow, potentially improving test weight.

Maturity Group: Selecting appropriate maturity groups is crucial for optimizing test weight. Planting varieties that are well-suited to the local climate and cropping season helps ensure they reach critical growth stages during favorable environmental conditions. Proper synchrony between plant maturity and environmental conditions enhances seed development and, consequently, test weight.

Quality Traits: Certain quality traits, such as specific protein content or oil composition, may influence test weight indirectly. Genetic variations in these traits can impact the overall development and physiology of the soybean plant, potentially affecting test weight. Breeders strive to develop varieties with desired quality traits without compromising test weight.

By carefully selecting and utilizing soybean varieties with desirable genetic traits, growers can maximize their chances of achieving higher test weights and improving overall crop performance.

3. Nutritional Factors

Nutritional factors significantly contribute to soybean test weight. Adequate nutrient availability ensures optimal growth, metabolism, and seed development. Here are the crucial nutritional factors affecting test weight:

Macronutrients: Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are the primary macronutrients required by soybeans. Insufficient levels of these macronutrients can hinder seed filling and reduce test weight. Nitrogen is particularly crucial for promoting vegetative growth, while phosphorus and potassium play essential roles in reproductive development.

Secondary Nutrients: Secondary nutrients like calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) are also vital for soybean growth and development. Calcium is involved in cell wall formation, helping maintain structural integrity, while magnesium is an essential component of chlorophyll, crucial for photosynthesis. Sulfur is a key component of amino acids and proteins, which are crucial for seed development.

Micronutrients: Although required in smaller quantities, micronutrients such as iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), and copper (Cu) are critical for various physiological and metabolic processes. Their deficiencies can impair nutrient uptake, enzyme activity, and overall plant growth, leading to compromised test weight.

It is important for growers to assess soil fertility and conduct regular soil tests to identify nutrient deficiencies. Applying fertilizers at appropriate rates and timings can help ensure optimal nutrient availability for soybean plants, promoting healthy seed development and improving test weight.

4. Cultural and Management Practices

Soybean test weight can be influenced by several cultural and management practices. Careful consideration of these factors is essential for maximizing test weight potential:

Plant Density: Plant density, or the number of plants per unit area, influences light interception, airflow, and resource utilization. Overcrowding soybean plants can result in increased competition for water, nutrients, and light, leading to reduced test weight. On the other hand, low plant densities may limit yield potential. It is crucial to find the optimal plant density that allows for efficient resource utilization and promotes seed development.

Planting Depth: Correct planting depth is vital for the establishment and development of soybean plants. Planting too shallow can result in poor root development, limited nutrient uptake, and increased susceptibility to stress. Planting too deep may hamper emergence, potentially reducing seedling vigor and overall crop performance. It is essential to follow recommended planting depth guidelines for specific soil and environmental conditions.

Weed Management: Weed competition has a direct impact on soybean test weight. Weeds compete for valuable resources such as light, water, and nutrients, potentially limiting soybean growth and reducing test weight. Effective weed management practices, including timely herbicide applications, are imperative to minimize weed interference and optimize test weight.

Disease and Pest Management: Various diseases and pests can negatively affect soybean plants, leading to reduced test weight. Foliar diseases, such as soybean rust or bacterial blight, can affect photosynthesis and overall plant health. Insect pests, like soybean aphids or bean leaf beetles, can directly damage seeds or vector diseases. Implementing integrated pest management (IPM) strategies and using disease-resistant varieties can help minimize the impact of pests and diseases on test weight.

Harvest Timing: The timing of soybean harvest is critical for achieving optimal test weight. Harvesting too early may result in immature, lighter seeds, while delayed harvest can lead to shattering, pod loss, and may expose seeds to adverse weather conditions, potentially affecting test weight. Harvesting at the appropriate moisture content is essential to avoid mechanical damage during harvest operations.


Soybean growers face various challenges when it comes to maintaining optimal test weight. Environmental factors such as drought stress, extreme temperatures, and non-optimal light conditions can impact soybean test weight. Genetic factors, including seed size, plant type, and maturity group, also play a significant role. Proper management of nutritional factors, cultural practices, and pest and disease control are crucial for achieving higher test weights.

Successful soybean production requires a comprehensive approach that considers all the factors contributing to low test weight. By understanding these causes and implementing appropriate strategies, growers can enhance test weight, increase crop profitability, and improve overall soybean quality. Regular monitoring, timely interventions, and continuous learning from agronomic research and best practices can empower growers to combat the challenges associated with low test weight in soybeans.


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