Charcoal rot of soybeans is one of the few Indiana field crop diseases thriving in the extreme heat and exceptional drought, and it could reduce the yields that have otherwise survived the unusual weather. Charcoal rot is caused by a fungus and infects seedlings early in the growing season. Symptoms, which mimic drought stress, aren't likely to appear until mid-season or later.

"Charcoal rot will be hard to diagnose in years like 2012, since it is difficult to distinguish it from symptoms of general drought stress," says Kiersten Wise, Purdue Extension plant pathologist. "Plants on hillsides or sandy areas will typically exhibit symptoms first."

While there are no in-season treatments to control charcoal rot, Wise says it's important that soybean growers scout for the disease and know which fields are susceptible. Charcoal rot can build up in soils and can survive for several years.

"The fungus can infect a number of crops, including corn, which limits the effectiveness of tillage and rotations for managing disease," she says.

Growers should look for plants exhibiting symptoms similar to drought stress, such as wilting, yellowing and stunting of the plant. Because a large portion of soybeans are drought-stressed, Wise says growers need to pull some of those plants and split the lower stems to look for a gray discoloration, and dark, round fungal structures called microsclerotia.

"We need to know which fields have charcoal rot this year so we can manage it in future crops," she says. "Genetic resistance in soybean varieties is limited but may be available, so producers with confirmed fields of charcoal rot should work with seed dealers to select less-susceptible varieties. They also should avoid planting at high populations to reduce competition for water among plants."

Wise also says it's important to note that foliar fungicides are ineffective at preventing or reducing charcoal rot development.

More information about charcoal rot is available in Purdue Extension's Pest and Crop Newsletter. Growers also can find a compilation of drought resources at Purdue Extension's "IN Drought" website.