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Using Cover Crops to Manage SCN

Eggs within a cyst (dead female) can survive in the soil for years. Credit: Iowa State University
Eggs within a cyst (dead female) can survive in the soil for years. Credit: Iowa State University

There are many reasons why some farmers choose to plant cover crops: preventing soil erosion, increasing organic matter, and using it as forage for livestock. But, if you have soybean cyst nematode (SCN) in your fields, you want to make sure you’re planting the right cover crop.

According to Dr. George Bird, MSU nematologist and leader of the SCN Coalition, when selecting your cover crop, you need to make sure it’s not an SCN host.

“We don’t want to have a cover crop that basically is food for the nematode, and that will make the problem worse,” said Dr. Bird. “Poor host is one that keeps the population from increasing above where it was when you started, but you may get a little bit of reproduction.”

There are some cover crops that help manage SCN. Dr. Bird recommends grasses because he says he is leery of legumes in Michigan, and brassicas might cost more than some of the grass-types that are non-hosts.

“I recommend going with a grass,” he said. “We can use a cash crop, like wheat, because that’ll be planted this fall, but rye is also a very good one.”

Dr. Bird says the SCN Coalition is trying to find a true trap crop—one that will actually reduce SCN population.

“We’re trying to find a plant that will be a good cover crop, but then when you plant it, it will reduce the population in the field significantly, and nobody’s discovered that yet,” he said.

According to Dr. Bird, the SCN Coalition is also working to find biological controls for the nematodes.