World soy chlorosis expert prepares to hang up lab coat

North Dakota State University's R. Jay Goos spent 40 years teaching, adding value to farmers and teaching thousands of soil science students.

Among the distinguished professors giving up their lab coats this year will be R. Jay Goos, a North Dakota State University soil scientist who is a world expert in iron-deficiency chlorosis in soybeans, and in recent years taught introductory soil science to thousands of students. Photo taken Feb. 19, 2020, in Fargo, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — R. Jay Goos is about to leave the building.

After 40 years as a soil science professor and researcher at the North Dakota State University, Goos will retire later this year as a land grant university professor with a full career that includes helping farmers tackle some of their biggest production problems.

An earlier farm crisis shaped his career. Goos, 65, grew up at Treynor, Iowa, about 20 miles east of Omaha, Neb.. His father, Bob, ran a feedlot operation. He expanded in 1969 — just before the historic Russian grain purchase. U.S. grain prices spiked, which was bad for feedlots. Interest rates spiked, too.

“We had the full-born farm crisis in the 1980s, but it was all building in the Nixon administration,” Goos recalls. ”Beef prices were rising with inflation and Nixon put price controls on beef. With that, and the skyrocketing grain prices after the Russian wheat deal, the cattle industry was hurting long before it filtered down to the grain farmers and what we normally think of as the farm crisis of the ’80s.”

Bob Goos advised his sons get an education in case there wasn’t a farm to come back to.


There wasn’t.

NB to SD to ND

R. Jay Goos, who retires after 40 years as a soil scientist at North Dakota State University, made his biggest mark in research on iron-deficiency chlorosis in soybeans. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Goos was recruited to South Dakota State University, where his father’s friend, Duane Acker, was dean of agriculture. (Acker went on to become president of Kansas State University, and assistant secretary of agriculture for science and education.) At SDSU, Jay studied mechanized agriculture and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1976, his master’s degree in 1978.

“I like all aspects of science and the soil involves all aspects of science — biology, mineralogy, physics, chemistry,” he says. He thought he’d be a soil mapper with the USDA, but had an offer to graduate school.

Goos went on to Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He completed his doctorate in 1980 and came to NDSU. During a wide-ranging career, Goos has worked on fertilizer issues on a variety of crops — alfalfa, grass-alfalfa mixtures, malting barley and buckwheat.

But he’s most known for work on iron-deficiency chlorosis (“IDC”). It occurs where the water table wicks to the surface.

“That lime pushes the PH up, and it’s the wetness and the lime, and the salts too, that make soybeans turn yellow at the top of the plant. The growing point is injured and the yields are just devastated,” he says.

Chlorosis passion


R. Jay Goos, a North Dakota State University soil scientist, on March 11 chemically tests various iron fertilizer products in the laboratory. In the foreground is a chemical model of the Fargo clay soils found in much of the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota. . Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Goos likes to recall that once a newbie in the ag chemical trade called Goos to ask if the professor knew anything about the disorder, which can wipe out farmers’ production.

“I said, ‘I am the living god of iron-deficiency chlorosis.’” The man later called him back to say — he’d checked — Goos was only half-joking.

Goos acknowledges putting “heart and soul” into IDC, the bane of many soy growers. He’s concluded that selecting chlorosis-resistant varieties is the most effective control. But varieties don’t last very long anymore.

“The seed companies rotate a variety out every three or four years,” he says. “Once a poor agronomist or farmer finds an effective (IDC) resistant variety, next year it may not be on the market, and they’re starting all over trying to find a resistant variety.”

Scientists have developed a 1-to-5 color scale for rating impact. When soybeans are about 1 foot tall, they can be rated for color — Green is “1” and slightly yellowed is “2,” for a 20% yield decline; “3” is 40%, “4” its 60% and “5” is 80% yield decline.

The area around Colfax in southeast North Dakota is “ground zero" for chlorosis, and Goos helped establish a “Colfax Chlorosis Club.”

“I figured if we can fight chlorosis in Colfax we can fight it anywhere," he says.


Goos used three weapons in the fight: a resistant variety, about 3 pounds of an effective chelate and wider rows.

Any variety will turn yellow if the conditions are bad enough. Wetness can influence chlorosis, but sometimes the cause is unexplainable.

Goos found that foliar sprays aren’t effective because the compounds don’t “translocate” or move to unsprayed areas on leaves or into new leaves, where they can reduce yellowing.

He’s also found that excessive nitrates can worsen the chlorosis problem.

R. Jay Goos on March 11 pipettes various iron fertilizer products. The intensity of color indicates their true value, or how they react with soil and are available to plants. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“Watch out for the ‘Lake Wobegon Effect,’” where “all of the children are above average,” referring to the IDC resistance ratings given by seed companies (and to the fictional Minnesota community). “Many seed companies give IDC ratings that are too optimistic,” he says.

He also warns of “Hhanky-panky in the iron fertilizer trade.” Iron fertilizers like FeEDDHA vary in quality, and can contain ineffective isomers and condensates, he says. “Sometimes fertilizer companies make claims about the purity of their FeEDDHA products that is not true.”

In part because of his work, state regulators are beginning to require that fertilizer companies state the purity of the iron fertilizer. “If it’s a lower-quality product and it’s priced cheaper, it’s not a problem, just apply a heavier rate. But if lower-quality products are presented as being a higher-quality product, that’s a problem,” he says.


Reaching students

R. Jay Goos, who retires this year after 40 years in the North Dakota State University soils department, taught graduate students but also introductory soils classes in which students got in touch with soils he’d collect in cores or “pedons” from throughout the state and region. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Until 2005, Goos was primarily in research but taught one course in soil fertility. When three professors retired suddenly, Goos took over the Introduction to Soil Science class. Goos is the only professor in the NDSU College of Agriculture to win the Senior Career Teaching Award twice — 20 years apart.

Sarah Lovas, a farmer and crop consultant from Hillsboro, N.D., an undergraduate and graduate student, has high praise for R. Jay Goos, a soil scientist at North Dakota State University. Today she’s a member of the NDSU State Board of Agricultural Research and Education. Photo taken Feb. 25, 11, 2020, in West Fargo, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Sarah Lovas, a farmer and crop consultant from Hillsboro, N.D., was one of Goos’ students in her undergraduate years. He was also her adviser in her master’s work in soil science. Today, she sits on the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education, which advises the Legislature on agricultural research priorities. Lovas says Goos is an excellent chemist and brilliant researcher whose “fingerprints” are on numerous innovations.

Lovas admired Goos’ teaching because of the work he would put into it, traveling around North Dakota to collect the soil cores —“pedons” — so that everyone in the labs would have a chance to feel the loam, the sandy loam, and the clay type soils.

“It took lot of time and energy and effort to do that. He would explain it so well. He really made it come alive,” she says. And if they didn’t have fun? “It was their own fault,” she says.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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