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Guess who's coming to dinner in your corn field?

Stunted plants and spotty stands narrows down potential maladies to a few dozen in your corn fields. But if you see corn fields exhibiting such symptoms this season, it may be due to corn nematodes.

"We have a perfect storm coming together where there are a number of factors leading to higher nematode numbers," says Mark Jirak, crop manager for Syngenta Seed Care. Jirak outlined reasons why corn nematode numbers have increased at this year's Commodity Classic in Grapevine, Texas.

  1. More continuous corn. This enables corn nematodes to thrive without a life cycle break that occurs when corn is rotated with other crops.
  2. More no-till and minimum tillage. Corn nematodes prefer the less soil disturbance that these systems bring.
  3. Adoption of corn hybrids resistant to corn rootworm. A side benefit of older organophosphate and carbamate soil-applied insecticides was that they also killed corn nematodes. With less insecticide used, this side benefit diminishes.

Better genetics leading to higher yields also give nematodes more opportunity, says Jirak.

"Back when yields were lower 10, 15, 20 years ago, nematodes probably weren't taking as much yields," he adds. "Now that we're raising higher yields, nematodes are taking more off the top end."

Stunted plants and spotty stands narrows down potential maladies to a few dozen in your corn fields. But if you see corn fields exhibiting such symptoms this season, it may be due to corn nematodes.

Corn nematodes are present more than you might think. In 2007, Syngenta Seed Care took three random soil/root samples in each county in the Midwestern Corn Belt that grew at least 25,000 acres of corn. Five university and one private lab processed the samples. "In ever soil sample, at least two species (of corn nematode) were found," says Jirak.

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