Many of us can know of and can identify several agriculture pests. I’d venture to say that a majority of folks in this area know that a fall army worm is bad news for everyone. Or that stink bugs damage many different kinds of garden and commercial crops. And many farmers can identify thrips damage from the cab of a tractor. But one pest that cost both home garden growers and commercial farmers yield every year is one you can’t even see. A pest so small, some species have to be sent to a lab for microscopic identification. Its existence has been known for thousands of years, yet it still plagues growers all across the world. This class of pest is known as Nematodes.
Nematodes were first described in Chinese literature around 2700 B.C. Ancient scientist recognized that these larger nematodes caused disease in humans and animals. An example being the common “round worms” we all know of today. As early as 235 B.C. humans identified microscopic nematodes as agriculture pest. In the 20th century, the world has made leaps and bound on nematode research and we have several tools to combat them today.
If you have grown a garden or have farmed some land with patches of underperforming plants, there’s a good chance you are dealing with nematodes. A plant or group of plants that are showing disease symptoms such as stunted growth, discoloration, galls on the leaves, and misshapen roots are all classic nematode damage. Different species attach different crops and can be sporadic in nature throughout a field. One of the more common species here are the “root-knot nematode”, which as you might guess, leave knots all over the plant roots and stunt growth.
So, what can we do? To me the correct series of events should be 1) Identification 2) Rotation 3) Treatment 4) monitoring. Soil samples can be taken to identify whether or not you have nematodes, and what species you have. When this information is known, growers can plant resistant varieties or crops that the nematodes don’t target. With larger nematode populations, commercially available nematicides are a convenient choice for control. Lastly, monitor you garden or fields and track damage. You can use this information for planning your next years crop.
Nematodes have been around for millions of years and live in a wide variety of habitats. From the hydrothermal vents of the deep ocean, to the sandy soils of Seminole County, nematodes are a persistent pest we must live with. Knowing the signs, knowing the pest, and planting accordingly can help give us a successful growing season in spite of these pest. If you are interested in getting a nematode sample collected, contact me at the extension office and we will get it done. Be safe out there.