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SDS numbers jumping; will the soybean trade take note?

Jeff Caldwell 08/18/2010 @ 7:52pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It's an awfully tough year for sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soybeans this year in the Corn Belt. Heavy rains and late-summer flooding is partially to blame for the widespread SDS pressures, though general crop progress also has a lot to do with the damage your fields incur from this point forward, experts say.

"This year has had one of the worst epidemics since the disease was found in Iowa in 1994. Severely infested soybean fields can be found in every region in Iowa," says Iowa State University (ISU) plant pathologist X. B. Yang. "It is easy to spot brown patches caused by SDS while you are driving the highways. Fields with large portions of premature defoliation can be found in early August."

It's easy to pin all the SDS blame on this year's moisture. That's not entirely the case, Yang says. Flooding and high water-related problems do influence the disease's prevalence, but this year proves other factors are just as important to big SDS numbers.

"Remember, 2008 was a flood year with high prevalence of SDS, but the disease that year caused less damage than this year. Spring and June conditions this year are the key to setting up this epidemic," says Yang, who projected in February that 2010 would be a heavy SDS year, mainly due to a wet, cool spring outlook that ultimately reached fruition (Read More).

So, how much SDS is out there? In Iowa, at least, Yang says up to half of the state's fields could be infected with the disease in varying levels of severity. And, farmers are reporting SDS further west than it's showed up in the almost 20 years since it was first discovered in the Corn Belt.


"Obviously, the levels of [SDS] vary widely. I have only seen spots in a few fields in northwest Iowa," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk member dapper7. "That is, if I know what I am looking at. I have been told it hasn't been this far west in Iowa."

Still, with such high levels this early in the season -- and little to nothing farmers can do at this point in the year to slow its spread -- it's inevitable that there will be SDS losses. Some farmers say they expect SDS to remove the top 5 to 10 bushels per acre from yield potential, and worst-case losses could tally 3 times that, Yang says.

"No chemical sprays are effective in controlling this disease. It is a waste of money. The losses vary from field to field and area to area, depending at what growth stage the disease shows up and how large of an area is affected," he adds. "I have seen losses as high as 30 bushels per acre in severely infected fields. Sometimes the losses are minimal if the disease shows up in later August. Generally severe premature defoliation can lead to 10-bushel losses."

If SDS becomes a wider issue between now and soybean harvest, will the market take note of the losses? Soybeans ended Wednesday's trade sharply lower as attention remained on the wheat and corn markets. Will it last?

"It would appear that it is going to be a race between the record soybean crops and SDS. Who will win?" says Marketing Talk member p-oed Farmer.

Others say the market's possibly preoccupied with factors in other pits -- namely the Russian drought situation and its effect on the U.S. wheat market -- to be too worried about SDS just yet.

"Isn't this already in the market? End-users in Iowa think it is not a factor...wide, wide basis into all of next year," adds Marketing Talk member jec22. "I think they already have a lot of beans bought."

But, don't rule out an SDS-led market move in the soybean trade moving forward. Expectations are running high for an early harvest, and for that reason, attention's squarely on crop conditions from now until the combines roll.

"The market has its ear to the ground regarding crop conditions, yield estimates, and even some early yield reports," says Cargill senior grain merchandiser in Eddyville, Iowa, Ray Jenkins. "After 2 years of waiting until November to get harvest started, this could be a year where it's all over before pheasant season."

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