Cereal Cyst Nematodes Threaten Global Grain Production as Our Population Rises

by Doug Simpson, Agricultural Systems Management Major

With our population on the rise, food availability is quickly becoming a main concern of anthropologists. An article by the Population Reference Bureau estimates that our population will rise to more than 9 billion people by the year 2050.

A recent study titled, “Cereal Cyst Nematodes: A Complex and Destructive Group of Heterodera Species,” by Richard W. Smiley discusses a rising threat to our global food supply. Out of all nematode pests, CCN’s have the greatest impact on the production of small grain cereals.

Young plants that have a large infestation of these CCN’s suffer from a stunted growth. Their low leaves become chlorotic, starved for nutrients, and are easily identified as pale green patches in a grain field.

Mature plants are also affected, showing knotted roots and a reduced number of tillers. This is seen in figure 1G-J. You can see an example of the young stunted grain crops in figure 1A-C, which is a part of Smiley’s study.

It all begins with the nematode entering the root tip, which causes the tip to stop growing and the root to give a knotty look. This leads to stunting and shriveling grain kernels.

In individual studies, CCN’s reduced crop yield by 20% in Pakistan, 50% in Turkey, and 90% in Saudi Arabia.

Detecting and identifying nematodes is important for applying the proper pest management technique. It is key to monitor their movement, estimate population densities, and correctly identify them.

If you were worried about CCN’s in your field, it would be wise to have a soil and plant material sample tested. It is possible for more than one CCN to be found in the same crop, but often the infection is from one variety.

So how can CCN damage be treated? Luckily with basic crop rotation schedules, the population is shown to decrease 57-74%.

Practicing proper sanitation methods is also advised, as well as using CCN resistant grain varieties. Certain populations of CCN’s can also be managed by planting trap crops and destroying them.

About the Author

Doug Simpson- Agricultural Systems Management Major, Minor in Agribusiness at The Ohio State University. I’m an avid cyclist who races all year. I love horticulture, and spent last summer working at MillCreek Gardens.

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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