OSCIA: Managing soybean seedling diseases can cut production costs

High soybean yields begin with a healthy stand of vigorous plants. Seedling diseases, along with other factors such as weather, can result in the need to replant and drive up the cost of production.

A project underway in conjunction with researchers from the U.S. is determining which pathogens affect soybean seedlings, and developing diagnostic tools to identify their presence, in hopes of developing better management tools for farmers.

“Understanding which specific pathogens make up the seedling disease complex, and the factors that enhance the damage they cause will increase our understanding of seedling diseases and help develop better management strategies,” says Albert Tenuta, field crops program lead with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF).

Next to soybean cyst nematode, seedling diseases — including oomycetes such as Pythium spp. and Phytophthora sojae, and fungi such as fusarium and rhizoctonia — are the No. 2 yield-limiting diseases in Ontario soybean production.

How is the research being conducted?

In 2012, Ontario researchers began participating in two U.S research projects, one by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the other by the United Soybean Board (USB), which were launched in 2011. To date, 120 isolates of fungal pathogens have been collected in Ontario from a wide range of environments, soils and cropping histories. These are now being analyzed with additional samples being collected in 2013.

This unique collaboration with U.S. researchers allows a more regional approach to fighting pathogens and lets experts on both sides of the border pool their knowledge and stretch limited resources.

What has the project found to date?

“This year has been ideal for many of the seedling diseases for soy and corn. Last year we found nine different pythiums in soy, more than I expected,” says Tenuta. “Many thrive under different environmental conditions and we’re seeing how the species are starting to adapt. They all have their particular niche and will affect stand establishment.”

For George Kotulak, who farms in the Leamington area, keeping new pathogens in check is important and he offered up his fields for testing as part of the project.

“They’ve been doing some sampling and looking at different types of diseases in the area. We have plants and land available for them to test, to help things along,” he says. “They’re looking for diseases we might not have anywhere else and how to deal with those to try to keep them under control.”

New technology that is now available, such as molecular tools, is allowing for faster and more accurate identification of the pathogens. Tenuta says they’ve developed some new assays for rapid identification and are working on tools that can be used in-field as well. If problems can be identified, new tools can be developed to manage them, he adds.

Where can I get more information?

More information on this project can be found online in the Crop Advances section of the OSCIA website.

How was the research funded?

Investment in this two-year project was obtained by Grain Farmers of Ontario through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. In Ontario this program is administered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council. OSCIA assisted with communication of research results.

— Lilian Schaer is a freelance writer and communications project specialist at Guelph, writing on behalf of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

Albert’s advice

  • Scout for problems. Know what’s going on in your fields with respect to stand problems and weeds.
  • Take action. Management tools include proper seed treatments, selecting different varieties or using fungicides.
  • “Understanding what pathogens you have that make up your disease complex is important — it can lead to better management of your crop.” — Albert Tenuta, OMAF field crop lead

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