Testing of commercial inoculants to enhance P uptake and grain yield of promiscuous soybean in Kenya

The aim of this study was to assess the potential of commercial mycorrhizal inoculants and a rhizobial inoculant to improve soybean yield in Kenya. A promiscuous soybean variety was grown in a greenhouse pot study with two representative soils amended with either water-soluble mineral P or rock P to assess product performance. The performance of selected mycorrhizal inoculants combined with a rhizobial inoculant (Legumefix) was then assessed with farmer groups in three agroecological zones using a small-plot, randomized complete block design to assess soybean root colonization by mycorrhiza, nodulation, and plant biomass production in comparison to rhizobial inoculant alone or with water-soluble mineral P. Greenhouse results showed highly significant root colonization by commercial mycorrhizal inoculant alone (p < 0.001) and in interaction with soil type (p < 0.0001) and P source (p < 0.0001). However, no significant effect was shown in plant P uptake, biomass production, or leaf chlorophyll index. In field conditions, the e ects of mycorrhizal and rhizobial inoculants in combination or alone were highly context-specific and may induce either a significant increase or decrease in root mycorrhizal colonization and nodule formation. Mycorrhizal and rhizobial inoculants in combination or alone had limited effect on plant P uptake, biomass production, leaf chlorophyll index, and grain yield. Though some mycorrhizal inoculants induced significant root colonization by mycorrhizal inoculants, this did not lead to higher soybean yield, even in soils with limited P content. Our results are further evidence that inoculant type, soil type, and P source are critical factors to evaluate commercial inoculants on a context-specific basis. However, our results highlight the need for the identification of additional targeting criteria, as inoculant type, soil type, and P source alone were not enough to be predictive of the response. Without the identification of predictive criteria for improved targeting, the economic use of such inoculants will remain elusive.