What Is Lurking in Your Soil?

by Keeley Overmyer, Sustainable Plant Systems major

When people think about organisms that make their home in the soil, most people instantly think of earthworms. The pink, slinky worms that actually provide many benefits to the ecosystem that they are a part of. However, have you ever thought about the harmful, yield robbing creatures that are invading the soil?

Soybean cyst nematode, also known as SCN, is just that – a harmful, yield robbing, soil inhabiting organism. SCN is harmful because it feeds on plant roots. Being parasitic, it takes nutrients away from the plant. After feeding, it leaves behind wounds where disease can penetrate.

Soybean cyst nematode was identified on soybean in Ohio in 1987 (Harrison, Niblack, Taylor, Dorrance, Meiring, 2013). In Ohio, it can be found in 68 counties (Harrison, et al 2013). Now, it is the leading cause of soybean yield loss in North America.

Once a field is infected with SCN, it is hard to get rid of. The females become full of eggs and latch onto the roots of the soybean. As time goes on, the females become hardened to form the protective structure, the cysts, around the eggs  The cysts can survive for years in the soil.

So why does this matter? Why do we care about a microscopic roundworm hanging out on the roots of a soybean plant?

The big problem: yield reduction. Yield reduction then plays into several other problems such as decreased profitability for growers and food security. As SCN steals yield from a grower, their profit margin gets smaller and smaller. This not only cuts into their profit, but it will affect their operation for years to come when the SCN population continues to grow.

If the SCN populations continue to build, yields will continue to decrease. Over time, continually decreasing yields could led to a shaky future for food sustainability. High yielding soybeans are important to serve the food and fuel needs of the world.

Next time you’re walking through the field to check crops, think about what may be beneath your feet. More importantly, think about sustainable practices to prevent the buildup of SCN.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *