This is another interesting year for early season soybean diseases in Missouri. According to the Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service as of June 10, 2012, "soybeans were 93 percent planted which is 16 days ahead of last year and 23 days ahead of normal. Emergence was 75 percent, 9 days ahead of last year and 15 days ahead of normal. Emergence was reported as uneven across the state." Certainly weather has been a key factor both in the earlier than normal planting and the uneven emergence. After a cool, wet, early start to the season, most of the state has been warm to hot and unusually dry. Sporadic rains have led to crusting problems in some areas. Seed planted into dry seedbeds has either not germinated or germinated and then struggled to emerge and establish a root system in dry soil. For most of the state, several soaking rains would be the best possible solution to this situation.
Although weather is a key factor this season, soil-borne pathogens could still be contributing to some of the uneven stands and poor vigor in seedlings. A heavy rain event and slow emergence due to compaction could have given Pythium species an opportunity to attack developing seedlings. Plants which are struggling to send out roots and to survive could be targets for Rhizoctonia or Fusarium species. And the hot, dry conditions could mean that Macrophomina (charcoal rot fungus) might also be causing early season seedling problems. Plants with comprised root systems will be more prone to desiccation from warm, drying winds. Some marginal browning of leaflets, wilting of plants and even premature death of plants may occur in drier areas of fields or across large areas of fields.
Soybean seedling blights have the potential to cause losses in Missouri soybean fields every year. The specific seedling blights that occur and their severity vary with the environmental conditions each season. When checking stands this season, it is important to take into account soil conditions and environmental stress as well as checking for seedling diseases.
Pythium and Phytophthora are favored by wet conditions and are more likely to be serious problems when wet conditions exist at or just after planting. Rhizoctonia and Fusarium are not as restricted by soil moistures and soil temperatures but still need some moisture to initiate infection. Macrophomina phaseolina grows best at temperatures between 82-95°F. Infection of seedlings with Macrophomina is most likely to occur if conditions of high soil temperatures and low soil moisture exist during the first two to three weeks after planting.
Symptoms of Pythium damping-off range from seed rot or preemergence damping-off to early postemergence damping-off. Affected tissue develops a soft, watery brown rot. Pythium damping-off is most likely to occur in cool (50-550F), wet soils.
Phytophthora can cause seed rot, preemergence damping-off and early postemergence damping-off. Initially affected tissue develops a soft, watery brown rot. Within several days the affected plant parts may dry out and shrivel up becoming dark, dry and brittle. This early stage Phytophthora is difficult to distinguish from Pythium damping-off. Phytophthora can also cause a seedling blight in which established seedlings turn yellow, wilt and die. Generally the entire seedling is affected and roots may be poorly developed and rotted. Phytophthora root rot is more likely to occur in heavy, wet soils, low areas or compacted areas, but it may occur in light soils or better drained areas if heavy rains occur after planting.
Rhizoctonia can cause seedling blight and root rot of soybean. Affected stands may have an uneven appearance and seedlings appear pale green in color and stunted in growth. The identifying feature of this disease is a small, reddish lesion on one side of the stem at or just below the soil line. This lesion develops into a sunken, cankered area at the point of infection. Sometimes the lesion will expand to completely girdle the stem. On severely infected seedlings, the entire hypocotyl may be discolored and shriveled into a dry, stringy or wiry stem.
Fusarium can also cause root rot of soybean. Infection is usually confined to roots and lower stems. The lower part of the taproot and the lateral root system may be discolored, deteriorated or completely destroyed. General roots show a nondescript brown discoloration and a dry, shrunken rot. Above ground portions of plants may appear off-color and stunted. Plants with severe Fusarium root rot may die prematurely.
Charcoal rot, caused by Macrophomina phaseolina, may be more commonly recognized as a mid to late season disease on maturing soybean plants, but it can also occur early in the season on seedlings. Infected seedlings tend to show a reddish brown discoloration from the soil line up the stem. The discolored area changes from reddish brown to dark brown to black. Foliage may appear off color or begin to dry out and turn brown. If the growing point is killed, a twin stem plant may develop. Under hot, dry conditions, infected seedlings may die. Under cooler, wetter conditions, infected seedlings may survive but carry a latent infection. Then symptoms may reappear later in the season with hot, dry weather.
Once the crop has been planted, there is little that can be done to reduce incidence or severity of soybean seedling diseases. Additional stress from poor growing conditions, herbicide injury or other factors may compound problems with soybean seedling diseases. Prior to planting it is important to consider variety selection (especially in fields with a history of Phytophthora), fungicide seed treatment, crop rotation, seedbed preparation and conditions at planting.
REVISED: June 13, 2012