Researchers: Nematodes pose problem
Identifying cereal cyst nematodes, requires special test
By MATTHEW WEAVER
STEPTOE, Wash. -- Pacific Northwest researchers hope to find a solution to cereal cyst nematodes, an emerging problem in the region's grain production.
Richard Smiley, Oregon State University professor of plant pathology, said the nematode is already widespread, to the point where only crop management can lessen its impact.
Most low flats probably already have the nematode, which can reduce yields by up to 50 percent, he said.
Smiley spoke during a field tour north of Steptoe, Wash., on Aug. 4.
"There are no chemicals right now registered for nematode control, so the farmers really can't do anything," Smiley said. "This adds to the frustration of the growers. We can identify problems easier than we can find solutions."
Smiley tested the wheat varieties Brundage96, Alpowa and Louise, Australian spring wheat Ouyen and the Turkish spring wheat Sönmez, which show resistance.
The varieties might not be suited to local conditions, Smiley said, but he hopes to develop a Pacific Northwest variety with resistance.
If farmers aren't getting consistent yields and they're applying the proper amounts of nitrogen with good moisture, Washington State University Extension Educator Steve Van Vleet said it's worth paying for a test to see if nematodes are present.
Farmers aren't going to want to switch into a three-year rotation where they have to have at least two years of broadleaf crops, Van Vleet said.
"They're making their money on the grains," he said. "But they're going to be forced to go away from that if they have a serious problem."
The nematodes have been noticed as an emerging problem in the last two years, primarily in Oregon with wheat-on-wheat rotations. It's also becoming a bigger problem in parts of Washington, Van Vleet said.
Van Vleet said the problem will worsen until a solution is found.
Colfax, Wash., farmer Randy Suess, a member of the Washington Grain Commission and chair of U.S. Wheat Associates, said he hasn't had much cereal cyst nematode on his farm.
"I've seen some spots where maybe the wheat is a little bit thinner than in other areas and of course, we don't know what that is," he said. "Is it nematodes, wireworms, the hard ground, was it too wet, too cold?"
Suess is pleased to see work on breeding, with researchers attempting to develop varieties resistant to nematodes.
"As far as I'm concerned, that's the way to look at this problem and try to solve it," he said.
Cereal cyst nematodes at a glance
* Description: Tiny unsegmented roundworms; in the infective stage they can only be seen through a microscope
* Damage: Puncture root cells, reducing root depth, plant vigor and water and nutrient uptake
* Cost to farmers: At least $3.4 million annually in Idaho, Oregon and Washington
Information from an October 2010 Pacific Northwest Extension Publication shared by Oregon State University, University of Idaho and Washington State University, by Richard Smiley and Guiping Yan.