Nematodes of alfafa


Nematodes aren’t usually a serious pest in alfalfa, but can reduce stands and thus lower production. Also lesions caused by nematodes allow diseases, like bacterial wilt or fusarium, to attack the alfalfa plants. There are three groups of the most occurring nematodes in alfalfa:


Root-knot nematodes

Meloidogyne hapla (and Meloidogyne chitwoodi to less extend) can live as parasites in the root tissue of alfalfa. They develop small oval galls (see picture) and excessive branching occurs on the roots. The galls may look like nitrogen fixing nodules, but can be distinguished as healthy nodules are usually pink coloured.

Heavy infection with root-knot nematodes can lead to stunted growth. Moreover, infected plants are more vulnerable to disease infections.


As nematodes can come along with seeds, the best way of prevention is to use clean, nematode-free seeds. The best way to control root-knot nematodes is to use resistant varieties. Highly resistant varieties show almost no susceptibility. On crop rotation it is recommended to rotate with cereals if known there are root-knot nematodes in the field. As many weeds are host to Meloidogyne hapla, weed control is an important aspect too.


Stem nematodes

Ditylenchus dipsaci can be a destructive pest, especially in areas with higher rainfall during cool weather. Infection with stem nematode causes the stem base to become swollen and roughened. Swollen nodes and shortened internodes are very visible symptoms. Infected stems may blacken and are easily broken off. With severe infection a symptom called “white flagging” may occur: regrowth after cutting lacks all green colour and completely white leaves appear on several plants through a field.


The use of resistant varieties are the most practical means to control stem nematodes. There are enormous differences between alfalfa varieties in their infection rate. Highly resistant varieties have more than 75% resistance, whereas susceptible varieties may show only 20% resistance.  


Root-lesion nematodes

Pratylenchus penetrans is a parasite which moves in the root system and damages plant cells. High numbers can reduce growth in alfalfa. Damage is difficult to assess because no clear above-ground symptoms can be found, only side effects like stunted growth or nutrient deficiency. Infection with fusarium wilt or decreased cold tolerance might be an indication of infection with root-lesion nematodes. Usually a soil and root sample has to be analysed by a laboratory to prove infection.


Very little is known about the difference in resistance between alfalfa varieties. Therefor a long-term crop rotation and application of the right catch crops for nematode control are recommended if alfalfa is grown on farms with root-lesion nematode occurrence.


Typical nematode infection can be recognized by spots in the fields with infected or dead plants (see picture). The infection spreads from the borders of the spot towards the whole field. Control in an early stage might be effective, by plant burning or soil fumigation.

Nematoden resistant Bij luzerne is de gevoeligheid voor nematoden is voor een belangrijk deel genetisch bepaald. Daarom worden in de veredelingsprogramma's van Barenbrug  alle rassen al in een vroeg stadium onderzocht op hun gevoeligheid voor nematoden. Hierdoor zijn veel rassen met een uitmuntende nematoderesistentie ontstaan. De resistentie tegen nematoden van de Barenbrug rassen wordt  ook erkent door de officiële onderzoeken in Noord-Frankrijk.

Luzernerassen die uitzonderlijk scoren op nematoderesistentie hebben het kwaliteitslabel 'Nematode resistant'.


De Barenbrugrassen Artemis en Alexis hebben het kwaliteitslabel Nematode Resistant ontvangen.

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