Parasitic nematodes are critters that can infect plant roots and severely reduce a plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. Root knot and cyst nematodes became a major obstacle to profitable soybean production in Florida during the 1960s. Soybean yields were often nonexistent in fields with heavy nematode infestations.
Chemical nematicides were found to be effective against these soybean nematodes, but due to stricter requirements for registration, most of these nematicides eventually became unavailable to soybean growers.
As a result, during the 1970s and 80s, thousands of soybean breeding lines were evaluated for genetic resistance to soybean root knot and soybean cyst nematode by Robert Kinloch (pictured above), a nematologist at the UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center (WFREC), in cooperation with two USDA soybean breeders. The WFREC was an ideal location for these evaluations because some of the areas at the center were heavily infested with either root knot nematode or cyst nematode. After thousands of evaluations, one breeding line showed more genetic resistance to these organisms than any other, and it was released in 1980 as a variety called ‘Centennial’.
When evaluated in nematode-infested fields, Centennial produced 60 percent higher yields than other varieties. In addition, nematodes were unable to reproduce on Centennial roots, thus infestation was greatly reduced. For many years after its release, Centennial was planted to more acreage in the southeast U.S. than any other soybean cultivar.