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'We're going to pay for this'

Agriculture.com Staff 01/16/2006 @ 11:51am

It's been an incredibly mild winter for most of soybean country, with temperatures 20 or more degrees above normal in the Midwest for the last month. The ground is unfrozen in much of Iowa, and some farmers have been doing light tillage operations and fertilizer injection, normally unheard of in January.

When winter weather is this mild, it's easy to think, "We'll pay for this later." That phrase could have a double meaning for soybean farmers: a blast of cold and snow in February; or more pests in your fields this summer.

Cold weather is Mother Nature's way of thinning out the bugs and foliar diseases that attack soybean plants. Soybean rust is a good example. It doesn't survive a freeze, and last winter there was a hard freeze all the way to the Gulf Coast. That pushed the rust survival line far south, and it was never able to work its way into the heart of soybean country last summer. So far this year, the "hard freeze line" is 300 miles or more north of the Gulf Coast. That doesn't guarantee we'll have rust in Missouri or Minnesota this summer, but it could give it a head start.

The same could be true for insects such as bean leaf beetles, grasshoppers and stem borers. The larvae that overwinter are all impacted by cold weather, particularly wet cold weather. Freezing and thawing has a big impact on their survival this winter, and egg hatches this spring.

Of course, it's never quite so simple as just measuring the temperature this winter, and predicting pest pressure in fields this summer. There are also beneficial insects that may survive in higher numbers in a mild winter. "Can you tell me what this winter will do to the beneficials?" asks Gary Lentz, a Tennessee entomologist. "The weather can either help or hurt both the good and the bad," he says. Still, his best guess is that the current weather will contribute to overall pest survival. That will put an even greater premium on good scouting throughout the 2006 growing season.

It's been an incredibly mild winter for most of soybean country, with temperatures 20 or more degrees above normal in the Midwest for the last month. The ground is unfrozen in much of Iowa, and some farmers have been doing light tillage operations and fertilizer injection, normally unheard of in January.

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