Soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is the number one cause of soybean yield loss in North America.
SCN often goes undetected on farms.
Interactions of SCN with other soybean pathogens can amplify the negative effects of both.
Once SCN is established, it cannot be eradicated completely, but management can help to reduce the population.
Soybean cyst nematode or Heterodera glycines is the number one cause of soybean yield loss in North America. Growers may suffer declining soybean yields over the course of years and not even be aware of a SCN presence. SCN does not always produce visible symptoms on a stand, and when it does, the symptoms often resemble other issues that can stem from diseases, nutrient deficiencies, or other stresses.
SCN is a plant-parasitic nematode, or microscopic roundworm. SCN has three stages: egg, juvenile, and adult. After hatching, juvenile worms enter soybean roots to feed. There they become either male or female. Adult males leave the soybean root in the worm form, whereas females swell to a lemon shape and become immobile. As they grow, they no longer fit within the root and begin to break through the root surface. The head remains embedded while their white bodies bulge from the root (Figure 1). The males fertilize the females whose bodies then turn yellow with age and brown when they die. The brown cysts drop off roots and contain eggs that can remain protected in the cyst for several years.
Several other crops and weeds can serve as hosts to SCN, but soybean plants provide especially favorable conditions for SCN development. SCN feed on plant roots removing nutrients, disrupting water and nutrient uptake, hindering root growth, and can reduce the number of nodules formed by nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The level of symptoms and impact on yield loss from SCN during a particular growing season is dependent on the amount of moisture available. The damage to soybean root systems is more severe during drought stress or when moisture is less available. Symptoms of heavily infected plants include poorly developed roots resulting in stunted plants with yellowing foliage. Often, however, no visible symptoms occur, especially in geographies from Kentucky north. Whether symptoms are evident or not, yield reduction results from reduced pod and seed development on infected plants.
Visible SCN Damage: SCN is not a problem that can easily be diagnosed based on symptoms, as their appearance is quite variable ranging from no visible symptoms to plant death. Symptoms that appear mimic other common issues in soybean production – nutrient deficiencies, herbicide injury, and environmental stresses. Seeing the white or yellow adult female SCN or cyst on a root is the only unique visible sign of infection on the roots. Visible symptoms (noted above) appear less often in high-yield environments that have adequate moisture; however, SCN can still reduce yield 15-30% or more in those same fields.
Disease Interactions: Openings from SCN feeding expose roots to entry points for many other soil-borne pathogens. Interactions of SCN with other soybean pathogens can amplify the negative effects of both. Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) and Brown Stem Rot (BSR) are two examples of this interaction. When dealing with interactions of SCN with other pathogens, it is recommended to address the SCN problem first because it will always be present, whereas other diseases may not develop every year.
Aside from visually verifying the SCN adult females on soybean roots, the only other way to determine the presence of SCN is through a nematode assay which also can also determine their population density. SCN samples can be collected at any time, but are best done close to harvest as SCN numbers tend to be the highest at plant maturity. Nematode assays can be used to determine the presence of SCN in a field or to help determine whether your SCN management plan is working. The first time a field is sampled to check for SCN, soil should be pulled from areas where SCN is more likely to become established such as: areas of poor soybean yield in previous seasons, along fence lines, near the field entrance, high pH areas, and areas that have poor weed control or have been flooded in the past. If there is an area of the field that appears to have heavy SCN damage, it is better to sample near the edge of the damage instead of the middle as SCN tend to move toward healthier plants once the damage is done. After a field is determined to be infested with SCN, annual sampling is no longer needed. These fields should be sampled every 3 years or before a SCN-susceptible soybean product is grown.
In the past, SCN populations were given a race designation in order to provide soybean growers with recommendations for soybean products conferring resistance to the specific race of SCN in their field. The practice of giving SCN a race designation has been replaced by the HG (Heterodera glycines) type test. The goal of the HG test is the same, to indicate which sources of soybean resistance would be good for a specific field being tested and which would be poor.
If your farm has experienced less than ideal yields from a SCN-resistant soybean product in an infested field or if you observe many SCN females on roots of resistant soybean during the growing season, you may consider having an HG type test conducted. Soil sampling may differ slightly for HG type testing, so be sure to follow your lab’s sampling guidelines.
Once SCN is established, it cannot be eradicated completely, but management can help to reduce the population. The key management practices should: improve soybean health and yield, keep SCN numbers low, and help preserve the yield potential of resistant products.
Niblack, T. and Tylka, G. 2010. Soybean cyst nematode management guide 5th edition. Plant Health Initiative, North Central Soybean Research Program; Tylka, G.L. 2012. Soybean cyst nematode field guide 2nd edition. CSI 0012. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Wrather, A. and Mitchum, M. 2010. Soybean cyst nematode: Diagnosis and management. G4450. University of Missouri Extension Division of Plant Sciences. 131207060138