Sunday, December 10, 2017

Bt Corn Update, and New Bt Trait Table Published

As final seed purchases are being made in the Texas Panhandle, here is a brief update on the status of Bt corn. But before your eyes glaze over from the discussion below of new Bts and resistance to older Bts, I want to highlight a publication that makes it easy to tell which toxin packages and herbicide traits are in which type of corn. Dr. Chris DiFonzo at Michigan State University publishes the annual "Handy Bt Trait Table for U.S. Corn Production", and the 2018 version was posted online today. (I am a contributor to this publication, but Dr. DiFonzo does the heavy lifting.)  In just two pages she lists the types of Bt present in all commercialized corn in the U.S.A., and the table presents the trade names for traits, Bt event, protein(s) expressed, targeted insects and herbicide traits.

The 2018 Trait Table also lists the insect x Bt combinations with documented field-failures, confirmed resistance, or cross-resistance. These statements are based on published lab assays and/or field research. The resistance column is intended to alert growers and consultants to potential management problems, influence seed selection, and encourage field scouting. It is important to note that the Trait Table is a national publication, so check with your local seed company or extension personnel for the types of Bt resistance present in your area.

For those looking at a printed version of this newsletter, the Handy Bt Trait Table can be found here: https://www.texasinsects.org/bt-corn-trait-table.html .

And now to the Bt corn update.

Monsanto is marketing Trecepta, its version of Vip3a pyramided with other toxins. I worked with Trecepta in 2017 and was impressed with its insect resistance and yield. For Vip3a corn we have Monsanto's Trecepta, DuPont Pioneer's Leptra, and Syngenta's Viptera. This type of corn is virtually immune to caterpillar damage whether the pest is western bean cutworm, fall armyworm or corn earworm. I have worked with Leptra for six years and Trecepta for one and, in that time, have seen only two live caterpillars in many thousands of ears I have examined.

On the resistance front, laboratory studies conducted primarily in Canada by Dr. Jocelyn Smith (with coauthors from academia and seed companies) have shown that western bean cutworm (WBC) is now resistant to Cry1F (often sold as Herculex). Control with Cry1F, even in the Texas Panhandle, has been slipping for several years, and it is now conclusive that resistance is a big part of the reason. All of the Cry1F registrants and licensees have removed WBC from the list of insects their non-Vip3a Bt corn will control. All of the companies correctly point out that the only Bt corn that will control WBC are the hybrids with Vip3a (combined with other ineffective toxins which vary by company). Bt hybrids that do not contain Vip3a should be scouted and treated according to extension recommendations.

Southwestern corn borer is known to be resistant to Cry1F in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The good news is that we have no indication that this resistance has come to Texas. DuPont Pioneer made significant efforts in 2017 to determine where the resistance does and does not occur. As part of this they funded John David Gonzales, IPM Agent in Bailey, Parmer and Castro counties, to make SWCB collections, and that project will be ongoing in 2018. The other good news is that in places where the resistance does exist, planting Bt corn with two toxins rather than just Cry1F has eliminated economic yield losses.

In the less than good news category, Dr. Ed Bynum, Extension Entomologist in Amarillo, and I have been in continuous corn fields in the Dalhart area that had unusually high amounts of corn rootworm damage in mCry3a hybrids. There have been many instances of western corn rootworm resistance to Bt toxins in other parts of the country, and is known that there is cross resistance between Cry3Bb1, mCry3a and eCry3.1Ab. It looks to me like we have resistance to these toxins in the Panhandle. However, resistance should be determined through laboratory analysis of the offspring of adults collected from fields, and that is why it is important to contact extension personnel or your seed dealer if you are seeing indicators of resistance. These indicators include fields that have been planted to the same Bt toxins for three or more years, the need to use soil applied insecticides on top of the Bt, high levels of root pruning, goosenecking or lodging of plants, or consistently high numbers of adult beetles in July or August. It is important to report suspected resistance while there are still plenty of adult beetles in the field to collect. Dr. Bynum and I would be glad to discuss resistance with anyone who thinks they might have a problem.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Southern Bt Crops: Getting Boxed In

Insects have developed resistance to the older Bt toxins in cotton and corn on a local or regional scale. A quick look at the situation in the southern U.S.A. finds that in the last two years, resistance has been documented over a large geographic area in cotton bollworm/corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) to the cotton Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab2 toxins. In corn, the limited efficacy of Cry1Ab, Cry2Ab2 and Cry1F has slipped from where it was years ago. This year in the mid-south, university personnel are reporting as much earworm damage in Bt corn as in non-Bt corn.

The "new" toxin, Vip3a, is highly effective on bollworm/earworm, and seed companies are putting it into new corn hybrids and cotton varieties alongside suites of the older toxins for which resistance has developed. Yes, readers can already see what is wrong with this picture; once Vip3a hybrids and varieties are widely planted, bollworm/earworm will be selected for successive generations on this toxin that now has only partial protection from the other toxins because they are already compromised. There will be two generations of Vip3a resistance selection on corn, and then another 1-2 generations of selection on cotton.

When bollworm/earworm becomes resistant to Vip3a, cotton will suffer economic damage because bollworm is a major pest. Resistance will be noticed in cotton first, in part because Vip3a toxin expression is lower in cotton than in corn. When Vip3a fails in cotton, growers will then begin to spray their crops 1-3 times per season with the diamide class of insecticides, the most effective class on bollworms. This in turn will select bollworm for resistance to diamides. Cotton production costs will rise and profits will decline. Any new toxins are seven to ten years away, so profitable cotton production depends on keeping bollworm susceptible to Vip3a for as long as possible.

On the other hand, on the vast majority of acres in the southern U.S., corn does not need the protection afforded by Vip3a. (The exceptions would be the few areas where fall armyworm is a pest, and in very small areas where fumonisin levels can increase due to insect damage to ears.) Corn earworm is not a significant pest in field corn; it damages the tips of ears and is not a major contributor to yield loss. This fact, however, has not stopped the seed companies from marketing Vip3a corn as a breakthrough solution to the corn earworm "problem". It is easy to sell technology that results, at least for a few years, in a completely undamaged ear, whether that technology is needed or not.

Unnecessary insect control aside, seed companies have put their most advanced genetics into Vip3a corn, so even without insects in the system these hybrids will probably yield more than older hybrids with compromised Bts or no Bt. Because they can't get advanced genetics in older, non Vip3a hybrids, growers will end up planting Vip3a corn for the yield potential rather than a need for Vip3a.

As a consequence, it is easy to predict that Vip3a corn acres will expand in the south and therefore hasten the demise of bollworm susceptibility in cotton. If this happens, the cotton industry will suffer major losses and corn growers will barely notice. Earworm/bollworm moths resistant to Vip3a (and perhaps the diamide insecticides) will fly north and threaten the sweet corn industry.

The older Bt toxins are failing, and Vip3a stands as the primary means of caterpillar control for some pests. There is already a field collected colony of fall armyworm that is resistant to Vip3a, but as yet bollworm/earworm is susceptible, although cotton varieties with Vip3a did suffer bollworm damage this season (which does not mean resistance).

I have long been a proponent of GM crops and still am. However, the current situation highlights the fact that we are just on a different version of the old Pesticide Treadmill. We are being boxed in; trying to come up with the next great thing before the last great thing loses effectiveness. I hope the next great thing comes along in time.


For a bit of background, older issues of this newsletter have discussed the convergence of Bt toxins in our crops and what it means for resistance evolution.

Is There Still Value in GM Crops? (9/16/16)
Bt Corn and Resistance Clouds (2/6/16)
Shuffling the Deck Chairs in Bt Crops (9/10/16)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fumonisin Levels and Insect Damage in Corn

I am not smart enough to be a Plant Pathologist, and in fact had two courses in it in college and still don't understand it. The classic "disease triangle" taught in pathology says that disease occurs when there is a pathogen, susceptible host and conducive environment. This year we seem to have had a happy triangle for Fusarium species, the causative agents of fumonisins.

Not much is known locally about how these fungi interact with our corn, but it is thought that drought stress followed by warm, wet weather, especially at flowering, favor the fungi. Being just an entomologist, I tend to think there is a baseline risk for significant fungal infection based on the susceptibility of the host (hybrid genetics) and environmental conditions. Without insects in the system there will be a given level of fungal growth and fumonisin creation. In my simplistic entomologist's picture, the baseline level is what it is and can vary from year to year, but insect damage can add to this level by opening wounds on the ear and/or by insects carrying fungal spores into the ear.

Dr. Ed Bynum and I did some work at Lubbock in 2012 that looked at the amount of fumonisin in ears with three different levels of insect damage, and more fumonisin was found with higher levels of insect damage. This was one hybrid of non-Bt corn that we sprayed with different timings of insecticide so as to get the three damage levels.

Figure 1. Type of ear damage and fumonisin levels associated with that damage, 2012.
This year there is a need to try and determine to what extent insect damage might be contributing to fumonisin levels, but this is not easy to do unless the hybrids have the same genetic background (inherent susceptibility) and are grown in the same field under the same conditions. One seed company has a small plot field trial near Ralls, and they were kind enough to allow me to sample ears from their new hybrid that contains Vip3a and other toxins, and an older Bt type that has fewer toxins but still the same genetic background as the new type of corn. This is a fair comparison for determining the role of insects. The older type of Bt corn averaged 3.6 damaged kernels per ear, while the new corn with Vip3a was essentially undamaged. Even the silks on the new type of corn were intact. The photos below represent what I saw in the field today.

Figure 2. New hybrid with Vip3a and other toxins (top), and older Bt with two toxins (bottom). The new hybrid was essentially without insect damage. In the older hybrid the insect damage was only at the tip, but fungal growth could proceed through much of the ear. 

The same photo as above, but rendered in an infrared simulation that highlights the kernels damaged by fungi. The grain from these ears was sent for laboratory analysis of fumonisin content, and the relatively undamaged ears on the top of the photo had an average of 6.0 ppm fumonisin. The ears on the bottom row had an average of 208 ppm. 

It is common on the High Plains for nearly every ear of corn to have corn earworm damage, and this year was no different and not significantly worse. In the opinion of this entomologist, the problems we are having this year are primarily due to environmental conditions that favored Fusarium. Having said that, I have worked with Vip3a corn for six years, and in all that time have seen only two live caterpillars in thousands of ears examined. Vip3a corn is essentially bulletproof for now, and if the goal is to reduce caterpillar damage then this type of corn is the way to go. Of course it is more expensive than older Bt technologies. All of the seed companies put other Bt toxins in with Vip3a. Pioneer sells their Vip3a corn as Optimum Leptra or AcreMax Leptra, Monsanto is now beginning commercial sales for 2018 as Trecepta, and Syngenta calls it Agrisure Viptera or Agrisure Duracade 5222. This is not to say that these hybrids won't have fumonisin problems; the inherent susceptibility might be more or less. It is to say that they will have less insect damage, which our data suggest ultimately plays a role in fumonisin levels.

Update on 10/11/17: Erin Louise Bowers did her Ph.D. dissertation on the benefits of transgenic corn in reducing fumonisin levels. She found that Cry1Ab +Vip3a corn had lower fumonisin levels that other types of Bt corn and non-Bt corn. The work is here.

Friday, September 29, 2017

SCA After the Rains: Now What?

We are now concluding five straight days of rain on the southern High Plains, but sugarcane aphids are still with us. I spent some time today collecting infested leaves and examining the aphids under a microscope, and I have to report that I can't find any evidence of the fungi that hammered populations on the Gulf Coast. (Although I will keep monitoring the situation.) Most of the aphid colonies I observed looked just fine, and there were some beneficial insects like syrphid fly and lady beetle larvae feeding on them. Dr. Katelyn Kesheimer, IPM Agent in Lubbock and Crosby counties, took 7 Day After Treatment data in a sugarcane aphid efficacy trial yesterday between rain events, and she reported that there was a slight decrease in aphid numbers on the untreated plots, but nothing to write home about.

So the rains did not really reduce the number of aphids, but, significantly, the cooler temperatures slowed them down. Aphid development and reproduction is slower in cooler temperatures, so the explosive population growth potential is not going to be here until we get significantly warmer. The practical effect of this is that fields that still require treatment, or will require treatment, do not have to be sprayed as quickly as they would be in hotter conditions. This is good for a few reasons, one of which is that it will pay to wait a few days.

We know that our insecticides do not work as well when it is cold, or, put another way, they work better when it is warm. Current predictions put the warmest days next week as Sunday - Tuesday, and then Friday - Sunday. If an application needs to be made, make it during the window of warmest days. Given that we don't really have hot weather in the forecast, it would not be a good idea to cut insecticide rates in the face of these moderate temperatures.

Dr. Kesheimer included a generic formulation of imidacloprid in her efficacy trial because growers are using it due mostly to its relatively low cost and a marketing push. We already have older data that this off-label insecticide does not provide good sugarcane aphid control, and her 7DAT data are reinforcing what we already know. Transform and Sivanto remain the effective sugarcane aphid insecticides.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sugarcane Aphid Increasing on Late Sorghum

It Is Not Over for the High Plains

Even though it is getting late in the season, sorghum is still at risk from sugarcane aphid, especially later planted sorghum. In Lubbock we are seeing leaves with thousands of aphids, and for the last two weeks many of these have been winged. These aphids have and will continue to ride the winds as they do each year. If this year is like the past three years, the aphids will spread westward and northward. Dr. Ed Bynum in Amarillo is reporting treatable populations in his area. The rains did not stop the aphids, and there is no reason to think they will stop before the first or second hard freeze. Last year we harvested sorghum at the Halfway Experiment Station after first freeze and still had plenty of aphids on the plants and in the heads.

What I am trying to say is that if you have grain or forage sorghum in the field, this is no time to get complacent. The photos below were taken at the Lubbock Research Center this morning before sunrise.

Leaves being killed by aphids, and honeydew darkening the soil where it dripped. 

Leaves on late planted sorghum completely covered by honeydew from the thousands of aphids feeding on the undersides of leaves above. All of the sorghum in this field looked this way. 

Mid-June planted sorghum. The untreated row is on the left, obviously. The row on the right was sprayed with 5 oz. of Sivanto. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Grain Sorghum: Nearly Perfect Storm in Lubbock and Lynn Counties

After writing in this newsletter last week that fall armyworm was not a significant threat this year, Katelyn Kesheimer, Lubbock and Crosby county IPM Agent, and I visited some fields in southern Lubbock county and south to the middle of Lynn County in the last four days. I take it back; fall armyworm is very numerous in sorghum in these places south of central Lubbock County where my traps are located. We encountered fields at panicle exertion or already booted that had as many as six worms per head, with an average of 2-3 mid-sized worms being the norm. For the most part these were fall armyworms in southern Lubbock County, but corn earworms seemed to increase in frequency as we went south. In a field 6 miles west of Tahoka we were seeing something like the 70% fall armyworm and 30% corn earworm. The age structure of the populations was approximately 45% small larvae, 45% medium larvae and 10% large larvae, but of course this will change quickly. Large larvae are by far the most destructive, and the goal is to treat the field before many of them are present. Kerry Siders, IPM Agent in Hockey, Cochran and Lamb counties, reported in his newsletter tonight that headworms were increasing in his counties, and the majority of these were corn earworms.

Fall armyworm larva feeding on a sorghum panicle in southern Lubbock County yesterday.

Prior to the arrival of sugarcane aphids, control options for caterpillars would have been a pyrethroid, Lannate or Carbaryl. Pyrethroids are not very effective on fall armyworms over 1/2 inch in size, so some area crop consultants are now adding a pint of Lorsban to act as a synergist with pyrethroids. HOWEVER, WE FOUND SUGARCANE APHIDS IN ALL OF THESE FIELDS. The use of a pyrethroid and/or Lorsban would eliminate the biological control agents in the field that are suppressing the sugarcane aphid population.

What we have now in these areas is a real problem. The best control practice would be to go after the worms with a soft insecticide that does not kill the biological control agents that keep sugarcane aphid in check. These insecticides would be Blackhawk or Prevathon. Blackhawk is approximately half the price of Prevathon, but DowAgroSciences has told us that there are no supplies of Blackhawk left in the warehouses because of brisk sales this year in the mid-South. So that leaves Prevathon, which is excellent on both caterpillar species. However, an application of 14 oz/acre of Prevathon, the lowest labeled rate, would cost on the order of $18 per acre + application costs. We cannot recommend less than labeled rates, but area Independent Crop Consultants tell us that 10 oz of Prevathon with 5 GPA by air provides good control of both caterpillar pests. This rate would cost approximately $12.80 per acre + application costs.

If one chooses to follow the pyrethroid + Lorsban path in a field with sugarcane aphids, then it is likely that a follow-up application will be needed for the aphids; at least 5 oz/acre of Sivanto or 1.25 oz/acre of Transform. But this is not a given; the aphids south of Lubbock County do not seem to be increasing as fast as they did in years past. Scouting will be essential.

At this point we do not know what to recommend with so many headworms in the system and aphids in the field; it comes down to economics. There are no inexpensive options here that do not elevate risk from sugarcane aphid, and we can't predict the future with respect to whether sugarcane aphids will require treatment later. (But note that some fields in southern Lubbock County are well over treatment thresholds for both pests.)

We have a sorghum headroom treatment threshold calculator here.  Our written thresholds and scouting procedures are here on page 23.

Another unknown is sorghum midge. The late planted crop is at risk, and with Blackhawk (which is effective on sorghum midge) out of the picture, we will have to resort to pyrethroids, which in turn will increase the risk of sugarcane aphid while not being much use on fall armyworm. Yes, there are no inexpensive answers to this emerging multi-pest situation.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sorghum: Sugarcane Aphids, Headworms and Midge

We have been closely monitoring sugarcane aphid numbers at the Lubbock Experiment Station and hoping the rain would knock them down. Unfortunately this has not happened, and our untreated plants in bloom now have 500 - 2,000 aphids per leaf and the lower half of the canopy has severe leaf damage. There are plenty of winged adults, too, and these will be flying off to infest other fields. With all of the late sorghum planting after failed cotton, there is now a very wide range of sorghum maturities out there and the younger plants are still subject to the full force of the aphid. High Plains insecticide action thresholds for each growth stage are presented on page 5 of our SCA Management Publication. There is also a statement about re-treatment thresholds.

However, we now have a 2-3-axis threat because cotton bollworm/corn earworm egg laying has really picked up and is now at a level of concern in both cotton and sorghum, and sorghum midge can still injure crops yet to complete bloom. In sorghum, cotton bollworm and fall armyworm comprise the headroom complex, and these insects feed directly on the developing kernels and can cause significant yield loss. Our treatment thresholds are based on the size of the worms, number of plants per acre, cost of control and market value of the grain, and these thresholds are presented on page 22 of Managing Insect and Mite Pests of Texas Sorghum. While cotton bollworm numbers are high, thankfully fall armyworm numbers are fairly low.

We think our High Plains bollworms are still susceptible to pyrethroid insecticides even though there has been some weakness in susceptibility in south Texas. A headworm population that is predominately cotton bollworm (but not fall armyworm) can be taken out with pyrethroids - EXCEPT that using them will eliminate most of the biological control in the field and stimulate a sugarcane aphid and/or yellow sugarcane aphid population increase. 

If a field reaches treatment threshold for either headworms or sorghum midge then insecticides should be applied to protect yield. However, if sugarcane aphids are present in the field then the choice of insecticide is important. We have some "soft" insecticides for headworms that will not remove the beneficial insects that are important for aphid control. Unfortunately, except for Blackhawk insecticide, this is not the case for sorghum midge, and any "hard" insecticide application (for either pest) should be followed up by careful monitoring of aphid populations. Insecticide options in these multi-pest situations are presented in "Insecticide Selection for Sorghum at Risk to Sugarcane Aphid Infestations".

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

West Texas Cotton: Scout for Aphids and Bollworms

Suhas Vyavhare, Extension Cotton Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Cotton will benefit from some of the timely rainfall we have been receiving recently. However, it is going to make conditions better for survival and multiplication of several pest species as well. In general, the hot and dry weather of West Texas helps to keep bollworm numbers in check (through desiccation of eggs). Humid and cloudy conditions over the last couple of weeks, however, may increase egg hatch rate and worm survival in cotton. In addition, added new growth on plant terminals will help both bollworms and aphids thrive better.

Over the last 10 days, we have spotted many fields with cotton aphid infestations. Aphid colonies are mainly concentrated to plant terminals but as the numbers build-up, they may move on to the leaves. Overall, beneficial numbers seem to be lower compared to the previous year, but they are present. Isolated showers will also help wash out honeydew and some of the aphids from the plants. If aphid colonies are spotty and mostly restricted to plant terminals, I would wait and monitor the situation over the next few days. Often aphid populations crash out in response to beneficials and rain. Click the link below to access more detailed information on cotton aphids: http://lubbock.tamu.edu/files/2017/07/Cotton-aphid_ENTO074.pdf

I have also come across a few reports of bollworm damage to non-Bt cotton. In our research trials, bollworm damage ranges from 5-6% boll injury in non-Bt cotton and <1% in Bt cotton. The threshold is 6% fruit injury with the presence of live worms in both Bt and non-Bt crop. Among various insecticide options for bollworm control, Diamide insecticides (Prevathon and Besiege) are the most reliable choices. Remember, Besiege contains both a diamide and a pyrethroid so it would be a better choice if stink bugs are present too. However, if aphid colonies are present in the field, the pyrethroid component may flare-up aphids. If a field needs to be treated for both aphids and bollworms, Prevathon can be tank-mixed with any of the commonly used aphidicides such as acetamiprid (Intruder).

Along with the proper insecticide selection, coverage is also important getting the desired level of worm control. In fields with dense plant canopy, it is important to get material down in the lower canopy where worms are in protected places.  Air induction nozzles recommended for newer herbicide technologies produce coarser spray which may not penetrate through the dense plant canopy and provide thorough coverage. Penetration through plant canopy can be improved with flat fans or hollow cone tips and by increasing final volume (no less than 10 GPA with a preference of 15 GPA for ground rig). If using an airplane, use at least 5 GPA. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sorghum Headworms Abundant

Sugarcane aphid is just beginning to build in fields in select counties on the Southern High Plains, and as of this writing I know of no fields that have required treatment. The sugarcane aphid distribution map can be found here. So far the aphids are building fairly slowly.

The less than good news is that fairly high numbers of headworms (corn earworm + fall armyworm) are being found in panicles. I was in a field in northeastern Crosby county last week that had 1-3 medium to large worms per head, and this field was later treated. Katelyn Kesheimer, IPM Agent in Lubbock and Crosby counties, just reported a field near Shallowater in Lubbock County that had a large number of worms. Stan Carroll, the Research Technician who runs the cotton bollworm/corn earworm traps at the Lubbock Center, told me this morning that he emptied the traps Tuesday night and had a high number of moths in them when he checked them Wednesday morning. We are therefore experiencing a big flight of cotton bollworms/corn earworms. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the fall armyworm trap captures are still well below average.

Insecticide selection for headworms is complicated now that we have sugarcane aphid or the threat of sugarcane aphid in the system. Most of our older insecticides like pyrethroids, Sevin, Lannate etc. will provide control, but they will also eliminate the beneficial insects from the field and leave it more open to damage by the sugarcane aphid. Newer insecticides like Blackhawk and Prevathon will preserve the beneficial insects, but they are more expensive than the older products. Besiege is a combination product, it has the same active ingredient as Prevathon but with pyrethroid as well. Besiege will not preserve beneficial insects. If a headworm treatment is needed then the risk of sugarcane aphid will have to be factored into the choice of insecticides. As an additional complication, we think our corn earworm is still susceptible to pyrethroids in spite of some slippage downstate, but we know that fall armyworm is less susceptible to pyrethroids, especially the larger worms. One good thing is that headworms do not require the high gallons per acre of spray that sugarcane aphids do, so applications can be made with 3-5 GPA - but check the label for the specific product you intend to use.

Treatment thresholds are based on the size of the worms, number of worms per acre, heads per acre, control cost and value of the crop. For example, in the table below a treatment would be justified at 14,000 large worms (longer than 1/2 inch) per acre when the cost of control was $10/acre and the grain value was $7.00/cwt. To put this in perspective, if the field had 28,000 plants per acre, this would be one large worm per two plants. The online headworm calculator is here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Texas High Plains Cotton: Stay Vigilant for Bollworms

Suhas Vyavhare, Extension Cotton Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

We have a wide range of cotton out in the field. Early planted fields are in bloom while some of the late or replanted cotton is a little behind. Overall, insect pest pressure remains light. Cotton fleahopper wouldn’t be an issue post bloom, however, the younger cotton should continue to be monitored for fleahoppers.

I haven’t come across any significant worm activity in the region yet. However, with the cotton blooming and the recent rain putting on some new extra growth, bollworm moths can be attracted to it. With so much talk going around with bollworms breaking Bt shields in south Texas and other parts of country, we need to be more vigilant. Treatable levels of headworms (bollworms) have been spotted in some of the sorghum fields around, which also warns of a potential threat in cotton.

I wouldn’t rush with insecticide application just seeing egg lay or the smaller (<1/4 inch) worms in Bt cotton; worms first need to feed on plant for the technology to show its effect. Similarly, I wouldn’t pull the trigger in non-Bt cotton based upon egg lay because natural control often helps keeping bollworm numbers in check. Give the technology (Bt traits) and the predators a chance to work their magic first.

The extent of fruit damage and the presence of live worms should be taken into account while making decisions about insecticide applications. The threshold is 6% fruit injury (post bloom) with the presence of live worms in both Bt and non-Bt crop. Some of the old data indicates pyrethroid insecticides may still work against cotton bollworms but no recent susceptibility data are available from the High Plains. The diamides (Prevathon and Besiege) are the most effective insecticides. Besiege contains both a diamide and a pyrethroid so it would be a better choice if stink bugs are present too. If stink bugs aren’t an issue, prevathon is a better option--it is always good to avoid unnecessary pyrethroid applications to keep secondary pests (aphids and spider mites) at bay. 


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Grain Crops Quiet For Now

As we hit mid-season, things are relatively quiet in area grain crops. The three intense storms that passed through recently brought both blessings and challenges, but one very positive aspect is that they decimated the large fall armyworm flight that was underway. Daily trap counts dropped from 100 or so per night to almost zero immediately after the storms. Intense rain and high winds likely knocked a lot of moths to the ground where mortality factors could act, and they also washed most of the egg masses off of plants. This week's fall armyworm graph is presented below. However, for those who do not get his newsletter, Tyler Mays, IPM Agent in Gaines, Terry and Yoakum counties, last week reported fall armyworm trap captures in excess of 500 and 600.

Sugarcane aphid is still hard to find in area sorghum, and once again relatively early planting seems to have paid dividends. Most early planted fields are now in bloom, and if the aphid comes it will be relatively late in the development of the crop. Dr. Katelyn Kesheimer, IPM Agent in Lubbock and Crosby counties, has been scouting sorghum intensely since the fields dried up enough to permit it. She reported that the only sugarcane aphids found to date are in low numbers in the same forage sorghum field near Lubbock where they were found several weeks ago. There are a few yellow sugarcane aphids and greenbugs.

Spider mites are present in area corn and should be scouted. Thus far I have not heard of any treatable populations, but mite numbers often increase dramatically as corn enters the reproductive stage.

The one source of worry is that the rains also decimated the populations of beneficial insects, and this means that if sugarcane aphids, greenbugs, yellow sugarcane aphids, spider mites or caterpillar pests begin to build up there is almost nothing left to stop them. Population increases in all of our pests could occur very rapidly. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Texas South Plains Cotton: Shifting Gears Towards Cotton Fleahopper

Suhas Vyavhare, Extension Cotton Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Showers over the last week should help cotton that was struggling earlier to stay alive and catch up with the progress. Most fields should fairly be safe from thrips at this stage. Many fields have already started squaring and becoming more attractive to flower feeding plant bugs such as the cotton fleahopper. Cotton fleahoppers prefer to feed on small squares (pinhead size) and can drastically reduce the fruiting sites in no time when in large numbers. When scouting for fleahoppers one should pay attention to both number of insects in field and the percent square retention especially during the first three weeks of squaring. I haven’t seen any major cotton fleahopper activity yet as numbers still remain scarce. This may be due to earlier hot and dry spell and the unavailability of alternate host plants to buildup fleahopper populations. However, fleahopper populations are unpredictable and can rise quickly in spots which is why it is important to keep a close watch on them. If you are seeing any square loss but no signs of plant bugs—that could just be the hot and dry weather causing it.
 Here is a link to access our new fact sheet for more information on the management of cotton fleahopper.

Also, check out our video to learn more about the cotton fleahopper and how to scout for it:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fall Armyworm 2x Normal and May Be On Fast Increase

After a very quiet spring, fall armyworm trap captures shot up this week to twice the 6-year average. The average trap capture this week was 228, but significantly, 106 of these were caught in the last two nights. This indicates that a possible very rapid population increase might be underway.

I was taking data this morning in a corn trial near Ralls. The corn was at V8 growth stage, and the non-Bt corn in the trial ranged from 20 - 50% of the plants per plot with fall armyworm damage. In the plots with the most damage, the average damage rating was 5 on a 1-9 scale. This is still below the level of concern, but if we are indeed in a time of rapid fall armyworm increase then noticeable damage in sorghum and non-Bt corn will be appearing soon.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Fall Armyworm Numbers Rebuilding, Sugarcane Aphid Moves Closer

After what has been a wonderfully quiet spring, the first day of summer brings news that fall armyworm numbers are on the increase. The trap captures at Lubbock jumped in the last week and are now near the 6-year average. Expect to start seeing damage on whorl stage corn and sorghum.

Additionally, sugarcane aphid has been confirmed in Tom Green and Nolan counties. This is discussed on the Sugarcane Aphid News site here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Texas High Plains Cotton: Keep an Eye for Grasshoppers

Suhas Vyavhare, Extension Cotton Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Early planted cotton with adequate soil moisture should now be safe from thrips damage. However, fields with less than 4-5 true leaves/plant should be continued to scout for thrips. Normally, once we are past thrips season, I shift my attention towards cotton fleahopper. This year, however, grasshoppers can come into play early in the season. Last year we experienced grasshopper outbreaks in spots causing severe stand reduction and defoliation on larger plants. With the extended spell of hot and dry conditions on the Southern High Plains, my antennae are already wiggling for grasshoppers.
Grasshopper populations can increase dramatically under low rainfall and dry weather condition and be very destructive to young cotton. Grasshoppers have a high reproductive capacity. The female can lay up to 400 eggs in variety of crops as well as non-crop areas including ditches, fence rows, grassy fields, along roadsides and in pasture areas. Both the nymphs (immatures) and adults feed voraciously on plant foliage. When wild grasses and other plants become dry, the grasshoppers migrate to crop plants. Margins of fields are usually impacted first. Typically, grasshoppers feed on cotton foliage without causing significant crop injury. However, during the outbreak periods, they can become very destructive. Large numbers of grasshoppers are capable of completely destroying stands of seedling cotton, especially around field edges.

Fields with a known history of grasshopper outbreaks can be protected using mechanical and cultural methods (tillage and weed control) that target eliminating egg-laying sites and weedy hosts around the crop field. Producers need to watch out for grasshoppers and begin control measures if needed while they are in the immature stages as adults sometime can be hard to kill with insecticide applications.
Results from 2016 grasshopper insecticide performance trial can be found at: 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Heat Damage to Cotton Mimics Thrips Damage

Kerry Siders, IPM Agent in Hockley, Cochran and Lamb counties, has posted a special edition newsletter that describes heat damage to cotton that may be mistaken for thrips damage. The reprint is below.

Special Edition West Plains IPM Update - Not Thrips Damage

So I have received a few calls about seeing what was thought to be thrips damage to cotton, even on 4-7 true leaf cotton. See damage referenced in pictures below. So the scouts and I are finding a few thrips but in most all cases well below threshold. The damage you are seeing below and I suspect in many if not most all fields is this cupped, puckered, damaged cotton leaves. Looks like thrips, but if you look on the underside you do not see the feeding damage from thrips rasping on the leaf causing rupture of tssue and leaking of plant fluids. This then results in a scared silver tissue. The damage we are seeing now is on the uppermost new tender leaves. This is caused by the hot desiccating winds. So it may be 102 degrees out there, but that bare soil surface could reach well over 120 degrees. Combine that with the constant wind, that will pucker anything up. So what happens is the tender leaf margins become desiccated or injured to a point where they cannot develop normally. Meanwhile the leaf continues to develop around the center portion of the leaf causing this cupped appearance. This is not thrips, not herbicide damage, no disease, no genetic failure, just plain HOT! And until this weather breaks with a more moderate temp of less than 97 degrees, decreased wind speed, higher humidity, needed rainfall - these symptoms will continue to be seen in cotton as well as other crops. I am seeing the same thing in peanuts today. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Soldier Beetles, Not Blister Beetles

A Lubbock County grower came to my office this morning with a bottle that held 20 or so beetles he collected from the edge of a field. His concern was that they were blister beetles, and I was pleased to be able to say that they were soldier beetles. However, given the high numbers he described in the field, soldier beetles must be very abundant this year.

Photo credits: Ed Bynum and Pat Porter

There is some resemblance, but these beetles are different enough to be separated on sight. One problem though is that he showed me a web page that incorrectly identified soldier beetles as blister beetles; the internet strikes again. Texas growers can always send us a photo of an insect if they want an identification.

Soldier beetles, insect Family Cantharidae, are predacious on other insects as both adults and larvae. Blister beetle larvae, insect Family Meloidae, are predacious on grasshopper eggs and the larvae of wild bees. When disturbed, blister beetles exude hemolymph (the insect version of blood) that contains cantharadin, a potent blistering agent. The University of Florida has a good publication on blister beetles, and there is a section near the end that covers the medical aspects.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Texas South Plains Cotton: Thrips Numbers on the Rise in Spots

Cotton ranges from seed just placed in soil to four true leaf stage in South Plains region. In most areas thrips pressure remains low, however, we are seeing some hotspots in counties north of Lubbock where thrips numbers are well beyond economically damaging levels. As the wheat is drying down and becoming an unfavorable host for thrips, adults are taking flight on breezes and winds to young cotton plants. Thrips feed on the lower surface of cotyledons first or any exposed true leaves before moving to the very tender terminal bud or growing point of developing seedlings. With their piercing-sucking mount parts, they stab and rasp away at plant surfaces causing severe scaring and then suck up the plant juices.
Young cotton leaves damaged by thrips

Controlling thrips at an early stage is very important as we try to protect these young and rapidly developing plants from damage. Excessive amounts of damage to these first leaves or growing point can have a huge impact on how the plant develops later and ultimately performs. Preventive insecticidal seed treatments provide control up to 3 weeks after planting. However, this can vary with growing conditions and the weather.

Once the plant reaches the 3 to 4 true leaf stage, with a healthy growing point and true leaves, growth accelerates rapidly and the risk of thrips damage usually starts to decrease. However, the plants will need to reach pinhead square stage before they are truly past economic thrips damage.

During the plant’s early growth stages, growers should apply foliar insecticide at a threshold level of 1 thrips per true leaf. When scouting for thrips, there is truly no substitute for whole plant inspections from a representative sample from across the whole field. More information on thrips management can be found at: http://lubbock.tamu.edu/files/2017/05/ENTO-069_fn.pdf

Check out our video to know how to scout for thrips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD2dIDQmRb0

Suhas Vyavhare, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Suhas Vyavhare & Katelyn Kesheimer, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

It’s go time for the cotton planters on the Texas High Plains. Planter wheels are turning throughout the region with clouds and patchy rain loomed in the forecast. There has been some early planting underway and we already are seeing some emerged cotton. Wireworms will be one of the first pests you will see in the Texas High Plains cotton.

The wireworm adults (click beetles and darkling beetles) become active in early spring and lay their eggs in the soil in clusters. The adults, as well as the larvae produced from the late summer and fall egg-lays, overwinter in the soil in leaf litter, stubble, or other suitable habitats. Wireworms attacking cotton tend to be most severe following grains crops, especially sorghum, fallow or weedy ground, or in reduced-tillage systems.

Click beetle

Darkling beetle

Wireworm larva
Most damage is inflicted by larvae, although some darkling beetle species can girdle or clip seedling cotton off at the soil surface much like a cutworm. The larvae damage cotton by feeding on the root, hypocotyl (stem of the germinating seedling), and cotyledon (seed leaves) of plants before emerging from the soil.  Root feeding can kill plants, but usually results in stunting. The most severe damage occurs when the hypocotyl is severed resulting in plant death and stand reduction.

Planting shallow and under warm conditions often allow cotton seeds to germinate rapidly and for plants to outgrow wireworms. From planting to 4-5 leaf cotton, darkling beetle adults should be watched for invading cotton from pastures, weedy areas, and corn and sorghum stubble. These beetles are only a threat if they cut off the seedling plants resulting in stand reduction. Treat for wireworm adults only when encountered in large numbers, plant clipping is evident and unacceptable stand reduction probable. Insecticidal seed treatments are the most effective means of preventing wireworm damage. More information on wireworm damage and control tactics can be found at: http://lubbock.tamu.edu/files/2017/05/Wireworms_ENTO-068.pdf 

Good News: Fall Armyworm Numbers Very Low

This year's fall armyworm pheromone trap captures at the Lubbock Research and Extension Center are at historic lows for the eight years we have been operating the traps. There are no technical problems with the pheromone lures, and we have plenty of corn near the traps to attract moths.

Of course the big question is why fall armyworm is mostly a no-show this year. We discussed this among Extension Entomology personnel on the High Plains and can't come up with a solid answer. There are plenty of moths on the Gulf Coast, we have the normal number of host plants, and we had a mild winter. Even thought I can't explain it, I am confident that this phenomenon is real and it is good news for our whorl stage corn and sorghum.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Texas Receives Section 18 for Transform in Cotton

Suhas Vyavhare, Extension Cotton Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

The EPA has approved the Section 18 Emergency Exemption for use of Transform WG in Texas to control plant bugs in cotton.

Approved distribution and use only in Andrews, Armstrong, Atascosa, Austin, Bailey, Baylor, Bee, Borden, Brazoria, Briscoe, Brooks, Calhoun, Callahan, Cameron, Carson, Castro, Childress, Cochran, Coke, Coleman, Collingsworth, Colorado, Cottle, Crosby, Dallam, Dawson, Dickens, Donley, Duvall, Fayette, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Fort Bend, Gaines, Garza, Goliad, Gonzales, Gray, Hale, Hall, Hansford, Hardeman, Hartley, Haskell, Hemphill, Hildago, Hockley, Howard, Hutchinson, Jackson, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Jones, Kent, King, Kleberg, Knox, Lamb, Lavaca, Lipscomb, Lubbock, Lynn, Martin, Matagorda, Mitchell, Moore, Motley, Nolan, Nueces, Ochiltree, Oldham, Parmer, Refugio, Roberts, Runnels, San Patricio, Scurry, Shackleford, Sherman, Starr, Stonewall, Swisher, Taylor, Terry, Throckmorton, Victoria, Washington, Wharton, Wheeler, Willacy, Wilson, and Yoakum Counties.

Pests and application rates: Plant bugs (1.5 – 2.25 oz Transform WG per acre)

Spray drift management: Applications are prohibited above wind speeds of 10 mph

-          Pre-harvest Interval: Do not apply within 14 days of harvest.
-          Minimum Treatment Interval: Do not make applications less than 5 days apart.
-          Do not make more than four applications per acre per year.
-          Do not make more than two consecutive applications per crop.
-          Do not apply more than a total of 8.5 oz of Transform WG (0.266 lb ai of sulfoxaflor) per acre per year.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) Safe From Ban

Under the leadership of its new Administrator, Scott Pruitt, EPA is denying a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos.

In part the press release says, “We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Pruitt. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results.”

Here is the press release.
The order denying the petition is here.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Preparing for Sugarcane Aphid Part I, Early Season

Sugarcane aphid will most likely return for another run at the High Plains sorghum crop in 2017, and this is the first in a series of articles to compile management suggestions based on what we learned from our 2015 and 2016 research and general field experiences. Contributors to this work include Dr. Ed Bynum, Extension Entomologist in Amarillo, Dr. Katelyn Kesheimer and Blayne Reed, Extension Agents IPM in Lubbock and Crosby counties and Hale, Swisher and Floyd counties, respectively, and Dr. Pat Porter, Extension Entomologist in Lubbock.

Beneficial insects cleaned up the overwintering aphids in 2016

In our 2015/2016 overwintering studies we found successful aphid survival as far north as Tulia. This was a bit of a surprise as our studies the previous year found survivorship only as far north as Hale Center. In 2016 we found SCA on Johnsongrass in Lubbock and Swisher counties in early May. At the time we were concerned that it would be a long aphid season, but fortunately there were abundant aphids in 2016 wheat. These served as food sources for the large number of beneficial insects that went in to overwintering in the fall of 2015 after feeding on sugarcane aphids. After the initial 2016 aphid finds on Johnsongrass we intensified our search, only to discover that the small sugarcane aphid populations were no longer to be found. It seems that the beneficial insects finished eating aphids in wheat and then moved over and wiped out the overwintering and colonizing sugarcane aphids on Johnsongrass.

Eventually sugarcane aphids began to arrive from the east in July, first along the cap in Crosby and Floyd counties. This time they trickled in little by little, and this was fortunately unlike the large clouds of winged aphids that hit the southern High Plains all at once in 2015. Last year's gradual westward movement of aphids meant that they were relatively predictable.

What about this year?

The abundance of beneficial insects early in the season this year will be important in protecting sorghum by preventing aphid movement from Johnsongrass to sorghum fields. Given that we had far less sorghum in 2016 than in 2015, it is the case that we had fewer beneficial insects going into overwintering in 2016. In effect we are starting 2017 with fewer beneficial insects in the system, but fewer sugarcane aphids as well. Katelyn Kesheimer checked some wheat fields today and found that some had high numbers of bird cherry-oat aphids and greenbugs, but there were high numbers of beneficials insects as well. Other wheat fields did not have many aphids or beneficial insects. Ultimately, aphid infestations on the High Plains will depend on overwintering and the earliness of arrival and severity and movement of sugarcane aphids from downstate. This causes a level of unpredictability for our 2017 sugarcane aphid situation. We will monitor populations and report our findings in this newsletter.

Early planting resulted in far less aphid pressure

Our primary recommendation for 2016 was to plant early so that the sorghum was as far along in growth stage as possible by the time aphids arrived. It is well documented that earlier growth stages can suffer more damage, so the idea was to outrun the aphid as much as possible. This strategy paid big dividends in 2016 for those who employed it.

However, to a lesser extent in 2015 we were also suggesting that late planted sorghum might suffer less damage because of all of the beneficial insects in the system that had developed on earlier planted crops. This definitely did not happen in 2016 and the standard and late planted crops were severely damaged by the aphid. So with two years of experience and data, our strongest recommendation is to plant early so as to outrun the aphid as much as possible.

Seed treatments are cheap insurance

We recommend that neonicotinoid seed treatments be used on all sorghum. In 2016, the early planted crop would not have benefitted from the 45 days of protection afforded by seed treatments. However, if we had not had abundant aphids in wheat to serve as food for the large number of beneficial insects that went in to overwintering, it might have been a different story and the early planted sorghum crop might have been infested in May or June. It is too early to tell whether we will have a similar high number of overwintered beneficials to provide protection in 2017. Fields planted in the normal window or late could expect significant aphid pressure within the 45 day window of seed treatment effectiveness. Also, even though seed treatments gradually play out, they still provide some sub-lethal effects on aphid reproduction beyond 45 days and, depending on chance, seed treatments might mean one insecticide application later rather than two. On balance it makes sense to use treated seed to protect against downside risk of infestations in pre-flowering and flowering growth stages. Even for standard and late planted sorghum the ability of seed treatments to provide protection depends largely on when the aphids infest the crop during the season. Therefore, even fields with treated seed need to be scouted for sugarcane aphid.

"Resistant or Tolerant" hybrids are still susceptible

None of the so-called resistant or tolerant hybrids on the High Plains have been shown to be able to keep aphid numbers below treatment thresholds. At best they slow the rate of aphid population increase; when the aphids arrive the threshold will most probably be exceeded and insecticides will be necessary. However, our research at Halfway showed that there is a significant economic benefit to using resistant hybrids even though they still need to be sprayed at the normal threshold. As yet we do not have a list of resistant or tolerant hybrids that we have confidence in, and it will take three years of replicated data from the High Plains before solid recommendations can be made. At present we recommend that growers consult their local seed company for suggestions on resistant or tolerant hybrids.

Coming in Part II

The next article will address treatment thresholds, insecticide rates and efficacy, and an economic threshold for a potential second insecticide application if the first application failed or could not be made.