AFBI find an emerging pest threat to cereal and grass crops

Stunted wheat crop emergence with plants exhibiting chlorosis
Stunted wheat crop emergence with plants exhibiting chlorosis

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute plays a key role in protecting plant health in Northern Ireland.

Recently, following reports of unexplained poor growth in some cereal and grass crops AFBI scientists have identified high levels of the root knot nematode, Meloidogyne naasi which is causing severe root damage in several parts of Northern Ireland. This pest is related to the potato cyst nematode and is more commonly known as ‘potato root eelworm’ but attacks a much wider range crops including barley, wheat, oats and ryegrass.

After hatching from eggs in the soil in early spring, the root knot nematode enters the plant roots and begins to feed, quickly producing characteristic root galling and root stunting. This root damage reduces the ability of the plant to take up nutrients and water and affected crops are especially prone to drought stress during periods of dry weather. Crops affected by the root knot nematode usually exhibit discrete patches of stunted yellowing plants, however this year larger areas within fields of cereals have been affected. It is likely that the damaging levels of root knot nematode this spring resulted from high populations developing during the hot weather experienced during 2018.

AFBI’s advice to cereal and grass producers is to check their crops for areas showing unexplained stunted growth and poor response to nutrient application.

If you suspect that nematodes may be causing a problem, contact AFBI Crop Pathologist, Dr Thomas Fleming (Tel: 028 9025 5240/ email: Thomas.fleming@afbini.gov.uk ) who can arrange testing and provide advice in managing this serious plant parasite.