Wisconsin Late-Season Soybean Disease Update

Damon L. Smith, Extension Field Crops Pathologist, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The calls have been coming in this past week on a couple of soybean diseases. In the southern third of the state most of the calls have centered on sudden death syndrome or SDS. To the north, most questions pertain to Sclerotinia stem rot or white mold. I’ll discuss SDS in some detail, plus provide a detailed description of brown stem rot (BSR) which also typically shows up this time of year. Finally I’ll provide a brief update on the white mold situation.

Sudden death syndrome (SDS)

Symptoms of sudden death syndrome on soybeans

The first noticeable symptoms of SDS are chlorotic (i.e., yellow) blotches that form between the veins of soybean leaflets. These blotches expand into large, irregular, chlorotic patches (also between the veins), and this chlorotic tissue later dies and turns brown. Soon thereafter entire leaflets will die and shrivel. In severe cases, leaflets will drop off leaving the petioles attached. Taproots and below-ground portions of the stems of plants suffering from SDS, when split open, will exhibit a slightly tan to light brown discoloration of the vascular (i.e., water- conducting) tissue. The pith will remain white or cream-colored. In plants with advanced foliar symptoms of SDS, small, light blue patches will form on taproots and stems below the soil line. These patches are spore masses of the fungus that causes the disease.

Foliar symptoms of SDS can be confused with those of brown stem rot. However, in the case of brown stem rot (BSR), the pith of affected soybean plants will be brown. In addition, roots and lower stems of plants suffering from BSR will not have light blue spore masses.

Once symptoms of SDS are evident, yield losses are inevitable. Yield losses can range from slight to 100%, depending on the soybean variety being grown, the plant growth stage at the time of infection and whether or not SCN is present in a field. If SDS occurs after reproductive stages R5 or R6, impact on yield is usually less compared to the development of SDS at flowering that can lead to substantial yield losses. When SCN is present, the combined damage from both diseases can be substantially more than the sum of the damage expected from the individual diseases.

SDS is caused by the soilborne fungus, Fusarium virguliforme (synonym: F. solani f. sp. glycines). F. virguliforme can overwinter freely in the soil, in crop residue, and in the cysts of SCN. The fungus infects soybean roots (by some reports as early as one week after crop emergence), and is generally restricted to roots as well as stems near the soil line. F. virguliforme does not invade leaves, flowers, pods or seeds, but does produce toxins in the roots that move to the leaves, causing SDS’s characteristic foliar symptoms.

SDS cannot be controlled once plants have been infected. Foliar fungicides have NO effect on the disease.Recently a new seed treatment has been identified that has efficacy against SDS. The active ingredient fluopyram can be found in the seed treatment iLeVo and is rated “very good” in multi-state trials. Other methods of control include using SDS-resistant varieties whenever possible in fields with a history of the disease; however, keep in mind that SDS-resistant varieties with maturity groups suitable for Wisconsin and other northern regions (groups I and II) can be limited. If SDS and SCN are both problems in the same field, planting an SCN-resistant soybean variety may also be beneficial in managing SDS. Do not delay planting soybeans to avoid symptoms of SDS.  In Wisconsin, it has been demonstrated that the benefits to yield when planting early outweigh the benefits of reduced SDS symptoms if planting is delayed. Improve soil drainage by using tillage practices that reduce compaction problems. Rotation, while useful in managing other soybean diseases, does not appear to significantly reduce the severity of SDS. Even after several years of continuous production of corn, F. virguliforme populations typically are not reduced substantially. Research from Iowa State University has shown that corn (especially corn kernels) can harbor the SDS pathogen.

For more information CLICK HERE to download a full color fact sheet on SDS. A short video on SDS can also be viewed by CLICKING HERE.

Brown stem rot (BSR)

Symptoms of BSR in soybean stems compared with a healthy soybean stem in the center.

Symptoms of BSR are usually not evident until late in the growing season and may be confused with signs of crop maturity or the effect of dry soils. The most characteristic symptom of BSR is the brown discoloration of the pith especially at and between nodes near the soil line. This symptom is best scouted for at full pod stage. Foliar symptoms, although not always present, typically occur after air temperatures have been at to below normal during growth stages R3-R4, and often first appear at stage R5, peaking at stage R7. Foliar symptoms include interveinal chlorosis and necrosis (i.e., yellowing and browning of tissue between leaf veins), followed by leaf wilting and curling. Yield loss as a result of BSR is generally greatest when foliar symptoms develop. The severity of BSR symptoms increases when soil moisture is near field capacity (i.e., when conditions are optimal for crop development).

Foliar symptoms of BSR can be confused with those of sudden death syndrome (see description below). However, in the case of sudden death syndrome (SDS), the pith of affected soybean plants will remain white or cream-colored. In addition, roots and lower stems of plants suffering from SDS (but not those suffering from BSR) often have light blue patches indicative of spore masses of the fungus that causes SDS.

BSR is caused by the soilborne fungus Cadophora gregata. There are two distinct types (or genotypes) of the fungus, denoted Type A and Type B. Type A is the more aggressive strain and causes more internal damage and plant defoliation than Type B. P. gregata Type A also is associated with higher yield loss. P. gregata survives in soybean residue, with survival time directly related to the length of time that it takes for soybean residue to decay. Thus, P. gregata survives longer when soybean residue is left on the soil surface (e.g., in no till settings) where the rate of residue decay is slow. P. gregata infects soybean roots early in the growing season. It then moves up into the stems, invading the vascular system (i.e., the water-conducting tissue) and interfering with the movement of water and nutrients.

Several factors can influence BSR severity. Research from the University of Wisconsin has shown that the incidence and severity of BSR is greatest in soils with low levels of phosphorus and potassium, and a soil pH below 6.3. In addition, C. gregata and soybean cyst nematode (Heterodera glycines) frequently occur in fields together, and there is evidence that BSR is more severe in the presence of this nematode.

BSR cannot be controlled once plants have been infected. Foliar fungicides and fungicide seed treatments have NO effect on the disease. Use crop rotations of two to three years away from soybean with a non-host crop (e.g., small grains, corn, or vegetable crops), as well as tillage methods that incorporate plant residue into the soil. Both of these techniques will help reduce pathogen populations by promoting decomposition of soybean residue. Also, make sure that soil fertility and pH are optimized for soybean production to avoid overly low phosphorus and potassium levels, as well as overly low soil pH. Finally, grow soybean varieties with resistance to BSR. Complete resistance to BSR is not available in commercial varieties. However several sources of partial resistance that provide moderate to excellent BSR control are available. Also, some, but not all, varieties of soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistant soybeans also are resistant to BSR. Most soybean varieties with SCN resistance derived from PI 88788 express resistance to BSR. However, the same is not true of varieties with SCN resistance derived from Peking. Therefore growers should consult seed company representatives about BSR resistance when selecting a variety with SCN resistance derived from this source. You can download a full color fact sheet on BSR by clicking here. You can also CLICK HERE to view a short video on BSR.

White Mold

White, fluffy growth of the white mold fungus on a soybean stem

Symptoms of white mold are becoming pretty apparent in Wisconsin. White fluffy growth (mycelium) is readily evident. Incidence in the northern half of the state is higher. We have visited fields as far north as Wausau and Pulaski, Wisconsin and have observed incidence ranging from 0% to 30% of plants infected. Reports from areas in the northwest indicate white mold present, but not as high of incidence levels. As we move to the southern portion of Wisconsin, white mold can be found, but at reasonably low levels. Most of the soybean crop is at the R5 growth stage, with some earlier maturing fields approaching R6. Questions have arisen about spraying fungicide now to reduce the damage caused by white mold and preserve yield. The short answer is NO. The reason is that the primary means of infection by the white mold fungus is through soybean flowers. These infections happened weeks ago. Therefore, the optimal time to spray would be when flowers were out. A low level of plant-to-plant transmission can occur late in the season in soybeans. However, this rate is low enough, that spraying to prevent it does not produce favorable results.

How much soybean yield might I lose from white mold?

Research has demonstrated that for every 10% increase in the number of plants that are infected with white mold at the R7 growth stage, you can expect between 2 to 5 bushels of yield loss. Thus, the fields I mentioned earlier will likely range from little detectable yield loss (3% incidence) to as high as 10 bushels lost (20% incidence).

What should I do if I see white mold in my soybean field now?

Get out and survey your fields for white mold. It is a good idea to determine how much white mold you have in your fields, so you can make some educated harvest decisions. One way to move white mold from one field to the next is via combines. You could clean your combine between each field, but this can be time consuming. So by determining which fields have no white mold and which fields have the most white mold, you can develop a logical harvest order by beginning your harvest on fields with no white mold and working your way to the heavily infested fields. This will help reduce spread of the white mold fungus to fields that aren’t infested. You can also make some decisions on your rotation plan and future soybean variety choices based on these late season observations.

If you would like to learn more about white mold and management of this disease, CLICK HERE to download a fact sheet from the crop protection network. You can also watch a short video about white mold by CLICKING HERE.