Soil Gives Away Soybean Pathogen's Presence by CSSA

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Soil Gives Away Soybean Pathogen’s Presence

Scientists identify soil pH as an indicator of the presence of soybean cyst nematodes

MADISON, WI, June 21st 2010 - New research reveals that soil pH is a useful guide for farmers and agronomists to detect and manage soybean cyst nematode, a devastating soybean pathogen. The investigation uncovered a relationship between high soil pH, which is already outside the ideal growing conditions for soybean, and high populations of cyst nematodes.

Scientists from Iowa State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison reported their findings in the July-August 2010 Crop Science, published by the Crop Science Society of America. Conducted on sites in both Iowa and Wisconsin, the study confirmed the relationship between high soil pH and nematode cysts, which results in a lower yield.

Soybean cyst nematode is the single most damaging pathogen of soybean in the United States as well as in most of the other top soybean-producing countries of the world. Infestations may go unnoticed for years due to the lack of above ground symptoms, leading to producers to unknowingly suffer declines in yield. This makes calculating economics losses difficult, but yearly losses have been estimated at about $1.5 billion in the United States alone.

Rotating nematode-resistant soybean varieties with non-host crops is currently the best management practice. Knowing when it is necessary to begin managing for nematode cyst is crucial for maintaining yield. Planting resistant soybean in an infested field can result in an average improved yield of 10%.

The results of the study showed the size of nematode populations increased with higher soil pH, and while all soybean varieties suffered yield declines, nematode resistant varieties declined the least. The researchers suggest that the impact of nematode population densities on soybean yield are related to soil pH, though the exact process through which this occurs remains unclear.

“Our data indicate that soil pH can be used as a guide to researchers, agronomists, and farmers attempting to account for natural variability of [soybean cyst nematode] population densities without prior knowledge of the nematode’s distribution in a field,” states lead-author Palle Pedersen. “Based on our results, agronomists and farmers would be well-served to assay areas of high pH in fields to determine the presence or absence of [nematodes]. Soybean breeders should take soil pH into account when establishing nurseries for their breeding program.”

The researchers also noted it was unusual for an obligate parasite, like soybean cyst nematode, to live in an environment not ideally suited to its host. Soybean typically requires a lower soil pH, and yet the highest nematode populations where found in areas well above the optimum range for soybean growth.

The study was funded by the Soybean Checkoff through the Iowa Soybean Association, Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, and the North Central Soybean Research Program.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at

Crop Science is the flagship journal of the Crop Science Society of America. Original research is peer-reviewed and published in this highly cited journal. It also contains invited review and interpretation articles and perspectives that offer insight and commentary on recent advances in crop science. For more information, visit

The Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1955, is an international scientific society comprised of 6,000+ members with its headquarters in Madison, WI. Members advance the discipline of crop science by acquiring and disseminating information about crop breeding and genetics; crop physiology; crop ecology, management, and quality; seed physiology, production, and technology; turfgrass science; forage and grazinglands; genomics, molecular genetics, and biotechnology; and biomedical and enhanced plants.

CSSA fosters the transfer of knowledge through an array of programs and services, including publications, meetings, career services, and science policy initiatives. For more information, visit