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Serving: IN

His job is infesting corn fields and growing rootworms

TAGS: USDA
His job is infesting corn fields and growing rootworms
This wasn't a good year for raising rootworms in the Eastern Corn Belt.

Murt McLeod could say he gets paid to infest fields with corn rootworm eggs – the more he can plant and raise, the better.

He does many more things than that, but the Pioneer researcher says it's one of his important jobs.

McLeod might be the only one disappointed that corn rootworms had a tough year in Indiana and other Eastern Corn Belt locations that received two much rain. "This wasn't a good year for corn rootworm larvae," he explains.

Related: Why Western corn rootworm is so tough to control

Raises insects: Murt McLeod's job is to provide known insect pressure for plant breeders to test against. He accomplished it by "planting" rootworm eggs in the spring.

Many of them didn't survive the ponding and saturated soils that were prevalent in many areas in late May through June. In central Indiana rootworms hatched during the first week of June this year according to reports from the Purdue University Pest & Crop Newsletter.

Using a special machine developed by Pioneer, McLeod plants millions upon millions of rootworm eggs each year. The eggs are raised at Pioneer's facility designed for raising insects in Johnston, Iowa. He "plants" them with a special machine designed to place them under the surface where they can hatch, develop as rootworm larvae and attempt to infest corn roots.

"Once the eggs are placed in the ground, it's just like they were there naturally," he says. "Wet soils and ponding affect them the same as they affect rootworm eggs and larvae that were 'farmer raised.'"

Why does McLeod plant rootworm eggs? He does it so that plant breeders can have insect pressure to test various insect traits under development to prevent corn rootworm feeding in corn.

"If we don't have consistent insect pressure every year, it's hard to evaluate the traits in various hybrids against each other," he explains. "My job is to make sure we have corn rootworms present so that we can see how various traits perform in the presence of a known infestation of rootworms."

The procedure worked well in the Western Corn Belt this year, but not as good in the Eastern Corn Belt where many larvae drowned, he concludes.

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