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Keep up your wheat bug guard, specialist says

Agriculture.com Staff 05/09/2008 @ 7:41am

A tour of the Kansas wheat crop conducted this week by the Wheat Quality Council (WQC) found good news: The crop looks good, with yields projected a few bushels higher than last year's crop.

"Crop quality looked good, with most participants commenting on a lack of disease pressure this year," says Kansas City Board of Trade vice president Shelia Summers, who accompanied the WQC Kansas tour this week.

That's not a cue to let out a sigh of relief and start counting the bushels rolling in just yet, however. Conditions are shaping up for a trio of pests to descend upon the crop, says Kansas State University Research and Extension entomologist Jeff Whitworth.

Army cutworm is a common wheat pest in Kansas, though this year, the timeframe for damage has widened because of last fall's later planting. "Normally, it infests wheat in late winter and spring," Whitworth says. "This year, the wheat crop is developing later than normal in most areas, so it is a good idea to continue looking for this insect."

When scouting army cutworms, look for irregular spots in the field that "may turn brown after green-up," Whitworth adds. The worms can also be found in the soil near the base of infected plants during daytime hours. "Army cutworms prefer to feed on new spring growth," he says.

If you're in a wetter wheat-growing area, like parts of eastern Kansas, true armyworm might be a problem that begs your attention this year, Whitworth says. This night-feeding bug that strips both foliage and plant beards, thrives after extended wet periods.

"Look for black, green and yellow striped worms. Like army cutworms, true armyworms can also be found just beneath the soil at the base of the plants during the day," Whitworth says. "Infestations can persist from now until harvest."

What historically hasn't been much of a problem turned into a greater concern last year when bird cherry-oat aphid feeding was severe enough to cause economic damage. Whitworth advises keeping your eyes open for the aphids again this year, not just because of feeding damage, but because of disease problems that feeding can spawn.

"This insect is a vector for barley yellow dwarf disease, which does more damage to yield potential when it infects wheat in the fall than spring," he says. "These insects should be controlled in the spring if populations reach 30 to 50 per tiller."

A tour of the Kansas wheat crop conducted this week by the Wheat Quality Council (WQC) found good news: The crop looks good, with yields projected a few bushels higher than last year's crop.

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