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Late-season pests infest Arkansas crops

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Populations of normally late-season, dry weather pests continue to build in Arkansas fields.

“With this drought, farmers already are under major stress and I hate bothering them with something else,” said Gus Lorenz today. “But they need to know what to look for. We’ve got some messy situations already.”

Spider mites are “tearing” soybeans up, said the Arkansas Extension entomologist.

“It’s bad already – early days with this problem -- and we really don’t even have a handle on how bad yet. We’re just at the tip of the problem. I think we’d have many more reports if folks knew what they were seeing.

“It’s amazing how bad this mite infestation is already. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bad situation in the state. And the problems have started so early – mites are usually late-season pests that hit in mid-July and come on in August when it’s very hot and dry. Since it’s been hot and dry early, the mites have shown up early too.”

Lorenz suspects many producers are seeing yellow spots in their fields and understandably blaming them on dry weather, too much herbicide or nematodes.

“But often it’s mites that are guilty and few are laying the blame on their doorstep. In the last few days, I’ve walked fields mites have absolutely worn out. Some very bad situations exist in central Arkansas but they’re all over state.

“Folks may not believe this, but in a bean field around England, Ark., we found plants that had a minimum of 200 mites per leaf. There were so many, they were balled up on the edges. It was incredible.”

Mites can “get in the pocket of a grower and chew his billfold up. They’re expensive to take care of. We’ve got a test field around Lepanto. The grower says he’s already spent $36 per acre to control mites. Imagine having that expense on top of all the other input costs.”

The good news, said Lorenz, is plant bug numbers are down significantly over the last couple of years. But, conditioned to treat for the pest, some producers continue to spray for plant bugs.

“That’s not helping. In fact, it can help flare mite numbers. I’m very concerned that’s happened.”

In traditional plant bug hotspots, Lorenz said there is a little plant bug activity. But, on the whole, plant bugs numbers are lower than they’ve been in years.

“We need to quit treating for non-existent plant bugs and concentrate on the pests really hurting our crops.

“Now, we’ve got beet armyworms in our cotton. Again, this is usually a late-season pest. But we’re already at treatment levels for beet armyworms in Mississippi County and Ashley County. Since we have so much cotton around there, there’s certainly potential for a big problem. And some of the fields being treated are Bt.”

Another late-season pest showing up is the saltwater caterpillar. While not at treatment levels yet “they’re coming on.”

Lorenz and colleagues have also taken a plethora of calls regarding grasshoppers. “Grasshoppers problems are all over the state. They’re hitting soybeans and are feeding on milo too. They’re building in numbers and they’re hard to control once they get bigger.”

Driving around the state, Lorenz is seeing “pitiful looking crops everywhere. Even the corners on center pivot fields are in bad shape. It’s especially bad in Mississippi County, Crittenden County – really most of northeast Arkansas. If they don’t get a rain there very quickly, I’m afraid of the consequences. The crops can’t stand much more without water.”

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