The ILSoyAdvisor site attracts soybean questions from around the globe. It is a premier soybean management website that is finishing its third season online. There is no advertising and the articles posted are written by experienced experts. We go to a lot of effort to find relevant and timely content about soybean management.

Because of this we receive emails from around the globe asking about soybean production, particularly in areas where soybeans haven’t historically been grown. I am left with the task of dispensing some advice on how to produce soybeans in a place I have never been.

I recently got such a question from Collent Ngandu who works for iDEzambia in Zambia and wants to introduce soybean production to small holder farmers (SHF). “I need more information on growing of soya beans. I work for iDEzambia in Zambia and working with 450 farmers who are SHF. We want to train these SHFs on how to grow soya beans to boost production to increase their standard of living. I will really appreciate if my request can be helped.”

At first this seemed like a tall order for me to dispense advice from around the globe. But I lived in Africa for nearly a decade and understand small holder challenges and enviroments. After thinking about it for awhile I realized there are some simple basics to soybean production that I could share that should guarantee some level of success. My response (below) was straightforward and seemingly simple, but it applies to soybean farmers everywhere.

The first place you should be aware of is the University of Illinois’ soybean innovation lab ( They are charged with bringing soybean production and utilization to Africa. Go to the website and sign up to receive the newsletter. They are also working with national programs to develop adapted varieties that can be grown by large and small farmers. They may be working in Zambia. Find out if your national program is working on soybean varieties or if there are any commercial companies selling seed.

Here are the basics of growing soybeans:

  • They require an environment and soil similar to corn or maize and the growing season is about the same length.
  • Soil pH needs to be above 6 so soybeans (a legume) can fix their own nitrogen; add lime if below pH of 6.
  • Find an adapted variety that performs wells in Zambia, probably a group 5-6-7 maturity. Varieties sold in Zambia should have the right maturity rating and plant quality seed.
  • Since soybeans aren’t commonly grown, the seeds will need to be inoculated with the right Bradyrhizobium species so they will form nodules and fix their own nitrogen.
  • Plant at the beginning of the rainy season at a population of 400,000 to 500,000 seeds per hectare at a depth of 4.5 to 5 cm and in rows 50 to 75 cm apart. Firm the soil over the top of the seed.
  • Plant in a weed-free field and keep it weed free until the crop canopy closes over the row.
  • Fertility requirements are similar to maize and require primarily phosphorus and potassium, either from supplemental fertilizer, composts or animal manure.
  • Rotate soybeans with other crops to keep diseases and insects at bay.
  • Someone knowledgeable should scout fields to identify production problems and the presence of disease and insect pests. Most problems do have solutions, but you have to identify them first.

These are the basics of modern soybean production. It starts with good seed; plant it right, give it the food it needs and then protect it from weeds, disease and insect pressure.

Of course the challenges are that SHF don’t usually have access to capital, equipment, good varieties of quality seed, and commercial fertility or crop protection chemicals. And land preparation, seeding, weed control and harvesting is usually very labor intensive. Nevertheless, if they follow the basics and are coached through the process they can become successful smallholder producers.

Agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D., posts blogs on agronomy-related topics. Feel free to contact him at or ring him at 402-649-5919.

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About the Author: Dan Davidson

Soybean agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D., posts blogs on topics related to soybean agronomy. Feel free to contact him at or ring him at 402-649-5919.