It is very seldom today that we have an opportunity to see how crops grow in soil that has been newly converted from woodland to crops, but the effect is dramatic since there are no soilborne diseases, insects or nematodes that are specific for the crops that are planted.

Eventually however the problems arrive, carried in soil on equipment that has been used in infested fields, by water, by animals, and by man himself as he walks in affected and non-affected fields.

Most of us have witnessed how progressing disease, fertility and nematode problems can reduce yields. The boom years for soybeans in the past demonstrated how soybean yields can decline. We have learned to deal with most of these problems, but at least one of them continues to plague us.

This problem is the nematode complex, and in most cases in this region it is the reniform nematode (Rotylenchulus reniformis).

Soybeans and cotton are both host crops for the reniform nematode, making a rotation of these two crops fairly useless with regard to management of this pest. Only a few years ago, a lot of emphasis was placed upon testing for this and other nematode pests, but in more recent years, the focus on these pests has waned. Crop rotation has become a more standard practice than in the past, and it seems that many people believe they have conquered the problem that way, but in many fields nematodes have begun to reach economic numbers again.

We need to return to testing for these pests and dealing with them appropriately.

Land values are too great to allow fallowing, so rotation and the use of pesticides are the only alternatives. The products being utilized for nematode control are both dangerous and expensive. For years we have needed another alternative method for dealing with them. I have hesitated in discussing work I have done in recent years that has shown promise in the management of nematodes, but I feel that I have to describe it because of the importance of the problem to the farmers I work with. Not discussing it would, in my opinion, be neglect on my part.

In 2012, I tested two products in small replicated trials in soil infested with either reniform or root knot nematodes. Without going into great detail about it I will simply say that both products suppressed both kinds of nematodes, but one of the materials produced dramatic reductions (around 80 percent) in both of these nematodes after only one month.

The most effective product was a naturally-occurring organic material called chitosan which has been known to have beneficial effects on the control of nematodes for many years but has not been utilized extensively in field crops here in the U.S. The other product was neem oil, another organic product of known effectiveness which has actually been utilized in horticultural crops for nematode suppression in the past. Neem oil produced around a 40 percent reduction in reniform nematode, an amount that would be very helpful, as well, even though it was not as effective as chitosan.

This year I hope to conduct several trials to further test the value of this material that has found acceptance in several ways in other fields of work according to literature I have reviewed. I now believe that this material may be an important breakthrough in the management of nematodes and possibly other challenges in agriculture also.

I will be glad to share the information I have on this and other materials I have tested in soybeans and cotton. So far I have not worked with it in corn, and only have begun looking at its use in peanuts.

Some have said that I am working outside of the “box” in this, but if you know me you will realize that I have never found the box to get in it in the first place. What box are they talking about anyway?