Soybean cyst nematodes slap soybean growers collectively with more than a $1 billion loss each year.

Regrettably, most farmers shrug off those national-loss figures with the feeling, "That's the other guy's problem."

Listen up! Let's put it in terms then of one farmer - a top grower and one-time president of his state's soybean grower association. Ron Heck, an Iowa State University graduate from Perry, IA, found that SCN had sneaked up on him like a fox looking for dinner. He sought help from his alma mater, then told growers at the Midwest Soybean Conference last August:

"Each year I failed to do something about SCN, I lost about $20,000."

In 1997 research on his farm, Heck found out exactly how important it was to take some corrective action. Early that spring, after studying 1996 research results, he fired an important management shot by switching varieties and leaving check strips with his old, non-resistant varieties. Let him tell it in his own words.

"I picked up 13 bu per acre when I planted a resistant variety on that infested land. And at $7 per bu (the price available at that time), that's $91 per acre. Besides, I spent less on weed control because of the quicker canopy with the resistant beans.

"And all I did was change my seed order!"

A dramatic example? Yes. But let's be conservative, say Heck and Greg Tylka, Iowa State University nematologist, who is doing SCN research at Heck's farm.

Let's say the loss was 7 1/2 bu per acre. And let's use $5.50 per bushel, which most any grower-marketer ought to be able to beat for his '98 crop. That's $41.25 per acre. If you raise, say, 300 acres of soybeans, that's $12,375. Over two years, that's just a tad under $25,000 - the price of a new, pretty decent pickup truck.

Heck's situation isn't all that unusual, say scientists, and there are plenty of cases that involve worse losses.

There's good news, and there's hope for soybean growers, however. Scientists like Tylka, grower associations and various industries that serve farmers have come to an overdue decision: Enough is enough! They have teamed up to form a 10-state SCN Coalition. Its challenge to soybean growers: "Take the test. Beat the pest."

Its mission: get all soybean growers to take soil samples and have them analyzed for SCN. Then, if they find they have the pests, to take the proper corrective action.

Admittedly, SCN hasn't yet infested every soybean grower's fields. But compared to even 10 years ago, if you're still free of this single-biggest, profit-stealing pest for U.S. soybean growers, it is getting much closer to nailing you.

The thing most growers don't realize - which is probably why they haven't tested for the pest - is that you can have SCN several years before they build high enough numbers to cause noticeable SCN symptoms. The real bad news is this: In most cases, plant damage and yield loss occur years before symptoms are visible.

Consider this: The first reports of SCN in the U.S. came from North Carolina in 1954 - 44 years ago. The destructive buggers now have been identified in virtually all 30 states where soybeans are grown.

For example, 82% of Illinois soybean fields are infested, 74% of Iowa fields, 71% of Missouri fields and 53% of Minnesota fields - and counting in every case.

Sadly, say SCN fighters, two-thirds of soybean growers have done nothing to beat these pests.

Here's what's scary about the nematode spread: Your fields could get infected - even if you do everything known to science to prevent and/or control cyst nematodes.

Migratory geese or ducks could stop to eat in a wet, infested field miles from your farm or even your county and then stop to feed in one of your fields and seed SCN with their muddy feet. Or nematodes can spread via seed harvested from infested fields then planted in your clean fields.

Even if farmers declare all-out war on these destructive pests, they cannot banish them completely. They can't be totally eliminated, caution scientists. But they can be managed well enough to become only small-time thieves, they assure. That's the good news.

In the articles that follow in this Special Report, you will find the details needed to hog-tie these thieves that steal significant profits from so many U.S. soybean growers.