Management of Sudden Death Syndrome in soybeans: K-State research

Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) is a disease caused by the soilborne fungus Fusarium virguliforme. This fungus prefers wet conditions and thus is usually most severe in irrigated fields. SDS tends to be most severe on well-managed soybeans with a high yield potential. It also tends to be more prevalent on fields that are infested with soybean cyst nematode (SCN) or planted early when soils are wet and cool.

Historical yield losses from this disease are generally in the range of 1 to 25 percent. Losses were unexpectedly low in 2015 considering the generally favorable soybean growing conditions in eastern Kansas.

Symptoms of Sudden Death Syndrome

Symptoms of SDS are fairly easy to recognize. SDS begins as small, bright, pale green to yellow circular spots on the leaves during late vegetative or early reproductive growth stages. As the disease progresses, the tissue in these spots starts to die and enlarges to form brown streaks between the veins, which remain green. Symptoms are more pronounced on top leaves.

Figure 1. Scattered yellow spots on some of the greener leaves in the lower right in this photo are the early leaf symptoms of SDS. The leaves in the center foreground have more advanced symptoms of SDS. Photo by Stu Duncan, K-State Research and Extension.


Figure 2. A soybean field in Shawnee County with SDS. Photo by Eric Adee, K-State Research and Extension.


Figure 3. Rotted roots of SDS-infected soybeans. The blue mold on the root is the Fusarium that causes SDS. Photo by Doug Jardine, K-State Research and Extension.

Flowers and pods may abort or not fill. Another key symptom of SDS is substantial amounts of root decay and discoloration of roots and crown. Diseased plants are easily pulled out of the ground because the taproots and lateral rots have deteriorated. Symptoms present on both the leaves and roots are diagnostic for SDS.

Management options for Sudden Death Syndrome

Effective management of SDS requires an integrated approach. Management starts with the planting of SDS resistant varieties. At K-State, we have been evaluating soybean varieties for SDS resistance in our performance test for the past several years. Most varieties are susceptible to some degree, and very few have good resistance. The most susceptible varieties yield 40 to 50 percent less than the resistant varieties at locations where SDS is present and yield levels are in the range of 60+ bushels per acre.

Figure 4. The variety on the right in a recent K-State performance test was susceptible to SDS. The foliage was completely dead by early pod fill. Photo by Bill Schapaugh, K-State Research and Extension.


Seed companies also have SDS ratings for most of their varieties, and there is typically a wide variation in ratings. There is little or no correlation between the maturity of a variety and its SDS resistance rating.

The presence of SDS is strongly correlated with the presence of SCN. Therefore, where SDS is present, soil samples should be taken to determine the level of SCN present and it will need to be managed along with the SDS. Producers cannot manage SDS simply by selecting varieties that have SCN resistance, however. Some varieties with resistance to SCN are susceptible to SDS. And some varieties that are susceptible to SCN are resistant to SDS. Ideally, producers should select varieties that are resistant to SDS and multiple races of soybean cyst nematode.

Cultural management practices that can reduce the risk of SDS infection include delaying planting until soil temperatures are warmer, avoiding planting into overly wet soils, and reducing compaction problems within a field. Producers who have fields with compaction problems should make every effort to correct that problem before planting soybeans next season.

Crop rotation also seems to have some positive effect on SDS, but only if the field is not planted to soybeans for four years or more.

Seed treatments: K-State research

Recent K-State research with seed treatments on soybeans has shown some promising results. A study with a seed treatment applied to irrigated soybean was conducted at the Kansas River Valley Experiment Field in 2015. The seed treatment was applied at the rate of 0.15 mg/seed to five soybean varieties with different levels of tolerance to SDS. The most severely infested plots had about 21% of the leaf area expressing symptoms of SDS by the R6 growth stage. Treatment with the new product ILeVO from Bayer CropScience reduced the amount of SDS and increased yield in the most susceptible varieties, but had no significant effect on already-low disease incidence or yields on the more resistant varieties (Table 1).




Table 1. Influence of soybean variety and seed treatment on Sudden Death Syndrome, Kansas River Valley Experiment Field-Rossville, 2015


Yield (bu/acre)


SDS severity (percent leaf area at R6)

Variety and relative resistance to SDS

Without ILeVO

With ILeVO

Yield advantage with ILeVO

Without ILeVO

With ILeVO

A – Most resistant






B – Moderately resistant






C – Intermediate






D – Moderately susceptible






E – Most susceptible






LSD (0.10)





In similar research at this Experiment Field in 2013, ILeVO reduced the percent leaf area with SDS at R6 from 18% to 5% on the most resistant variety while yields of that variety were increased from 28.6 to 42.9 bushels per acre. Disease severity was much greater in 2013 than in 2015.

In 2014, ILeVO was tested on a highly tolerant variety. SDS severity was very high that year, with about 50% of the leaves showing symptoms in untreated plots. ILeVO decreased to about 15%, and increased yields from 47 to about 58 bushels per acre.

Figure 5. Soybean plots treated with ILeVO (right) had less SDS symptoms than the untreated plots (left). Photo by Doug Jardine, K-State Research and Extension.


Eric Adee, East Central Experiment Field Agronomist-in-Charge

Doug Jardine, Extension Plant Pathology