Scouting Soybeans for Soybean Cyst Nematode

Alyssa Koehler, Extension Field Crops Pathologist;

With our sandy soils, Soybean Cyst Nematode (SCN) is widely prevalent across the region. Symptoms of SCN can look similar to production challenges like nutrient deficiency, soil compaction, drought stress, or other diseases. SCN can inhibit Rhizobium nodule formation, causing chlorosis or yellowing of soybeans in affected areas of the field. Due to the lack of consistent or obvious aboveground symptoms, it is very common for SCN to go unnoticed until severe infestation develops. Scouting soybean roots for SCN females in-season and fall soil sampling are two ways to check your field for SCN. Yellow to white females can be observed on roots from about six weeks after planting. Females on the roots confirm the presence of SCN, but do not provide information on the level of infestation. Soil samples are the best method to assess overall populations across the field. Soil sampling can be conducted at any time, but fall samples provide a good snapshot of end of season populations and can be collected when already out for routine fertility sampling. We will follow up with the steps to collect soil samples for SCN in August and today I will introduce the steps to scout for SCN females on roots:

When to sample

Scouting for SCN females on roots can occur 6 weeks after planting up until 3-4 weeks before harvest. I find that digging plants earlier in the season is generally more effective because new roots surrounding the base of the plant are easier to dig and not as deep into the soil profile. The females are also easier to see on these younger root systems.

Where to sample

When scouting a field that has never been checked for SCN, you can target any area with yellow or stunted plants, but it is also a good idea to include healthy looking plants since SCN can be present without aboveground symptoms. Areas of the field at higher risk for SCN include near a field entrance, areas that have been flooded, areas with pH greater than 7, areas where yield has historically been lower, or areas where weed control is not as good.

How to sample

Using a shovel, dig 6 to 8 inches from the base of the plant to try to remove as much of the root system as possible. Avoid tugging or pulling on the plant since you will leave much of the root system behind in the soil. Gently shake off the soil and check the root system for white to light-yellow lemon-shaped adult SCN females (Figure 1). Gently swirling roots in a bucket of water will remove soil particles without dislodging the females. SCN females are much smaller than nitrogen-fixing nodules (Figure 2). A hand lens or magnifying glass can be very helpful, especially when scouting in sandy soils where sand particles can resemble SCN females.

Figure 1. Soybean root system with SCN females indicated at arrows

Figure 1. Soybean root system with SCN females indicated at arrows (Photo A. Koehler)

Figure 2. Soybean root system with nodulation (left arrow) and SCN females (right arrow

Figure 2. Soybean root system with nodulation (left arrow) and SCN females (right arrow) (Photo A. Koehler)

What to do next

If you find SCN females or suspect nematodes are present in the field, a soil test is the next step to estimate population density in the field. For many years, nematode populations were managed through a single source of resistance, PI88788. Over the past few decades, we have seen a break down in this resistance and SCN are reproducing at far higher rates than they should. If high levels of SCN are present, crop rotation can help to reduce populations. Corn and wheat are both non-host options. While the PI88788 resistance gene accounts for over 95% of soybean acreage, there are new resistance genes slowly entering the market. Seed treatments are another control option. Compared to plain seed, stand improvement has been the most notable effect of seed treatment in our trials, particularly in April or early May plantings. In trials from 2019-2022, yield response from seed treatments were variable based on season and ranged from 0 to +7 bu/a.

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