Soybean Cyst Nematode

Encyclopedia Article

Description Soybean Cyst Nematode

The soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is the most important pathogen of soybean in Iowa. In high-yielding production fields or during years when soil moisture is plentiful, damage from SCN may not be obvious. However, yield losses up to 40 percent on susceptible varieties are still possible. When symptoms are associated with damage, infected plants usually occur in patches within a field.

Obvious symptoms may not develop, even though yield loss occurs. Noticeable symptoms of SCN include stunting, slow or no canopy closure and chlorotic foliage. Infected plants have poorly developed root systems. Soybean cyst nematode infection also may reduce the number of nodules formed by the beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria necessary for optimum soybean growth. Signs of SCN include white femalesSoybean Cyst Nematode that are most readily seen in the field starting about six weeks after crop emergence. To see them, roots must be dug and soil carefully removed. However, the only way to get a reliable diagnosis as to the amount of SCN in the soil is through analysis of a properly collected soil sample by a diagnostic laboratory. Plant damage is not just limited to direct and indirect effects of feeding by the nematodes. Wounds caused by infecting nematodes and by maturing 
females serve as entry points for other soilborne pathogens. Diseases such as brown stem rot, Rhizoctonia root rot, sudden death syndrome and charcoal rot are more severe in the presence of SCN. 

SCN survives in the soil as eggs within dead females called cysts. These eggs can survive several years in the absence of a soybean crop. The second-stage juvenile (J2) hatches from the eggs and infects soybean plants. After infection, these juveniles migrate to the vascular system before setting up specialized feeding cells within the root. As they feed, the nematodes become immobile. The juveniles molt three more times before maturing into adults, with females becoming so large they burst through the outer surface of the roots. A female will produce 200 to 300 eggs that are deposited in an external egg mass or are retained within her body. Soybean cyst nematode can complete four or more generations during the growing season, depending on planting date, soil temperature, length of the growing season, host suitability, geographic location and maturity group of the soybeans.

Conditions that favor soybean growth are also favorable for SCN development. High soil pH may be used to predict where SCN is more problematic. Areas of fields with soil pH levels of 7.0 to 8.0 typically have more SCN compared to areas with soil pH 5.9 to 6.5.


Best time to scout is six weeks after planting until three or four weeks before harvest. Areas where SCN may first appear in a field include near field entrances, areas that have been flooded, weedy areas, high pH spots, and lower yielding areas. 


The number of SCN in a field can be greatly reduced through proper management, but it is impossible to eliminate SCN from a field once it is established. Soil tests are recommended prior to every third or fourth soybean crop to monitor SCN population densities (numbers).

Variety selection: Resistant varieties are available to manage SCN. The three most common sources of resistance are PI 88788 (most common), PI 548402 (Peking) and PI 437654 (also referred to as Hartwig or  PUSCN-14). Resistant varieties are not resistant to all SCN populations. Most resistant varieties contain only one source of genetic resistance. Rotating sources of SCN resistance may help prevent the development of more damaging SCN populations. SCN-resistant varieties, even high-yielding varieties, can vary considerably in how well they control nematode population densities. Greater SCN reproduction will result in a higher SCN egg population in the soil at the end of the growing season, and consequently, higher numbers of SCN in subsequent seasons. Thus, growers must consider how SCN-resistant soybean varieties affect SCN population densities, in addition to how well the varieties yield, to maintain the long-term productivity of the land for soybean production.

Crop rotation: If SCN is a problem, rotation should include non-host crops (usually corn) and resistant soybean varieties. Years of non-host crops may decrease SCN numbers by as much as 90 percent in the southern United States, but only 10 to 40 percent in the north (some of the differences may be due to poor winter survival in the south). Years with a resistant variety will keep SCN numbers from increasing.

Stress factors: Maintaining adequate soil fertility, breaking hardpans, irrigation (if available) and controlling weeds, diseases and insects improves soybean plant health. These practices help plants compensate for damage by SCN, but do not decrease SCN numbers.

Tillage: No-till practices may slow SCN movement and lower population densities.

Clean equipment: Soil that remains on tillage and harvest equipment can move SCN and should be removed before equipment is relocated from an 
infested to a non-infested field.

Seed treatments: Seed treatments labeled for use on SCN may provide early season protection.

Soil-applied nematicides: A limited number of 
nematicides labeled for use on SCN can be applied at planting.

Photo by Craig Grau 


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