Bath, N.C., grower Mike Godley knows a thing or two about nematodes — he’s been battling the little critters for years and thanks to a new nematode resistant cotton variety he might just be winning the battle.

Godley farms about 1,200 acres of land, much of which has been farmed by his father and grand-father or by relatives for generations — his is truly a family farm and a Century Farm.

In 1999 he took something of a risk and planted all 1,000 acres, which was his farm acreage at that time, in cotton. To justify purchasing the equipment he needed to grow cotton, he had to plant all his acreage to the crop, though that’s not how he preferred to do it.

In 1999, he got Hurricane Floyd. And hurricanes and mostly mature cotton don’t mix well. So, Godley’s introduction into his second year of cotton farming got off to a rough start to say the least.

Though most of the problems he encountered growing cotton in the early years were painfully clear to him, perhaps the biggest problem — a build up of root-knot nematodes on some of his best cotton land — still challenges him today.

The nematode problems weren’t new, but different when he started growing cotton. Godley’s long-time crop consultant Bill Peele explains: “We pulled nematode samples religiously before 1999 to manage primarily cyst nematode and some occasional root knot in soybeans and corn. 

“Where growers (like Godley) moved to continuous cotton we held off with the nematode sampling after two years, because the cotton was wiping out the cyst and root knot were not presenting a problem. 

“When we saw problem areas showing up in soybeans, cotton, and corn fields we began to take a look again and realized our problem was primarily root knot. Cyst were also finding a foothold on some farms as well.   

“Now, we pull the nematode samples in problem areas during the growing season, and also along with fall soil samples for our Production Management Plan. We are using a GPS one sampling approach, so we pull samples in the same area each year and study historical changes,” Peele says.    

Even if rotation with corn and soybeans had been an option in the early days, the North Carolina grower contends it wouldn’t have made much difference, because all the rotational crop options are about as susceptible to root-knot nematodes as cotton.

In 2008, Godley began planting soybeans in part to take advantage of good market prices and in part to break his cycle of continuous cotton. “We used Temik on our cotton, and it probably masked some of the symptoms of root-knot damage, but the damage became very obvious with soybeans,” he says.

Despite the nematode problem, he grew mostly beans for a couple of years and switched back to a cotton/soybean rotation in 2010. “It became evident, he says, that regardless of which crop I chose to grow that nematodes would be a challenge.”