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Texas Field Reports: Sugarcane Aphids Not a Major Problem for Prepared Sorghum Producers

Ernst Undesser
By Adam Russell, Texas AgriLife Extension September 19, 2017

Texas Field Reports: Sugarcane Aphids Not a Major Problem for Prepared Sorghum Producers

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Rod Santa Ana

Most sorghum producers around the state experienced lower sugarcane aphid populations than the previous two years, with some help from nature, growing conditions, technology and adequate preparation, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Danielle Sekula, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management entomologist, Weslaco, said damages the previous two growing seasons had South Texas sorghum producers on guard and prepared for the pest that migrates from Mexico in the spring.

Sugarcane aphids inflicted heavy damage to Texas sorghum fields in 2014 and 2015. AgriLife Extension economists compiled data earlier this year that indicated farmers incurred $21.87 million in losses for 2014 and $17.53 million in 2015 due to sugarcane aphids.

“Producers were ready and waiting this year,” she said. “They knew sugarcane aphids were coming, and they had their products ready and were prepared to spray. I had some producers who sprayed as soon as they saw the winged aphids migrating into their fields and laying live young, and others who sprayed as soon as they saw a nice size population of aphids on their plants. I hardly got any phone calls compared to previous years.”

Sekula said early spring conditions also allowed producers to harvest sorghum fields earlier, before sugarcane aphid populations reached a second peak around the second week in June.

“Harvest was early this year because we really didn’t have a winter,” she said. “Producers were harvesting in mid-May to the first week in June before aphid numbers became a real problem. The crop was early, it matured quickly and producers got it out of their fields before there were major issues.”

Predators numbers also helped keep aphid numbers in check, she said. Ladybugs were in typical good numbers but lacewings, another aphid predator, were seen in larger numbers than previous years. Two different species of parasitoids also showed up in good numbers to impact sugarcane aphid populations in South Texas.

Sugarcane aphids “annihilated” several haygrazer fields in July, Sekula said. But early and effective treatments by sorghum producers along the Texas-Mexico border likely contributed to lower migratory numbers for inland producers to deal with.

“We scouted along the river early, and a lot of producers sprayed at the first signs of sugarcane aphids,” she said. “It created a border that I think prevented aphids from going north in as heavy numbers as they had in previous years.”

Dr. Ed Bynum, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Amarillo, said he didn’t see infestations until the middle part of August, and sugarcane aphid numbers didn’t begin building until a week or two after their arrival. It was late August before the pests made their way to sorghum fields along the northern Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle border.

“Some areas had significant build up so there were treatments, but some areas across the Panhandle were sporadic, and we didn’t see them build up to dangerous levels,” he said. “Last year and the year before infestations were a lot heavier, especially in the southern parts of the Panhandle, and more fields were treated.”

Bynum attributed lower sugarcane aphid populations to fewer acres of planted sorghum, producers planting aphid-tolerant sorghum varieties and monitoring fields closely, and lower pest migration numbers.

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“Sorghum acreage was down across the High Plains, and that contributed to the lower numbers early on,” he said. “Producers were definitely out watching for them because they understand the damage that can be done. They also planted varieties with certain levels of tolerance that didn’t allow the numbers to build up so quickly. I think variety choices and early scouting by producers and late aphid arrival this season was the main thing for lower aphid pressure in the Texas Panhandle.”

Sekula said some producers did choose more tolerant varieties but many stuck with the higher-yield varieties they were familiar with.

“They were looking for higher yields and knew what they needed to do to protect them, and I think they did pretty well,” she said.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Temperatures were in the 90s with no rain. Pasture conditions were starting to decline. Some producers will feed hay soon. Harvest continued but slowed due to elevator capacity. Corn harvest was nearly complete. Producers were cutting and baling hay. Cotton harvest was in full swing. Cotton yields ranged from one to two bales per acre.

Winter grazing was being planted at a fast pace. Livestock were in good condition. Tank levels were dropping due to lack of rain. Most counties reported average soil moisture. Overall rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly average. Nearly all counties reported good overall crop and livestock conditions.

ROLLING PLAINS: Hot and sunny conditions prevailed throughout the district. Pastures and rangelands continued to dry out. Wildfire potential was being monitored. Livestock were in good condition with some producers feeding supplements while others moved cattle to pastures that were not grazed during summer months. Most pastures had a decent amount of grass but needed some moisture for new growth before winter.

Producers continued to plant winter wheat and hoped for rain to get it up and going. A few producers took advantage of earlier rains and planted wheat, but those acres were beginning to dry out. Fall armyworms were being monitored on a few early planted fields. Cotton bolls were opening.

COASTAL BEND: Counties in the district were in full recovery mode after Hurricane Harvey. Favorable weather allowed producers to harvest remaining cotton. However, some producers estimated they have 50-70 percent of the cotton they started with. Fall hay harvest continued, and some winter pastures were planted.

Victoria County reported some cattle losses in bottomland along the Guadalupe River. Plowing and stalk destruction resumed. Livestock were doing well, and large calf runs continued at area sale barns.

EAST: No rainfall was reported and temperatures were in the 90s. Wood County needed rain for winter pasture establishment. Most counties reported pasture and rangeland conditions as fair to good, while Panola County reported excellent conditions. Tyler and Jasper counties reported very poor and poor conditions, respectively. Hay production was still in full swing in Cherokee, Panola and Smith counties.

Several producers from Shelby County sent hay to producers affected by Hurricane Harvey. Wood County hay production was winding down. Forage conditions continued to stay strong in Panola County. Subsoil and topsoil moisture conditions were mostly adequate but Houston and Wood counties reported short. Insects and diseases were reported on various plant varieties in Smith County.

Bermuda grass stem maggots still plagued Upshur County and armyworm infestations decreased in Cherokee County. Wild pig damages were reported in Wood County. Most counties reported livestock were in good condition with large numbers at sale barns. Smith County cattle started calving.

SOUTH PLAINS: The subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were short to adequate. Integrated pest management reports indicated cotton fields were safe from most insect pests other than cotton aphids. The dry, warm weather helped cotton fields finish maturing. Peanuts were doing well. Corn harvest began. Wheat planting continued.

Grain sorghum harvest was nearing for early planted crops and near boot stage in other fields. Cattle were in good condition. Pastures and rangelands were in fair to good condition.

PANHANDLE: Temperatures were above average for most of the district. Soil moisture was mostly adequate. Dry, warm conditions zapped topsoil moisture, and rain was needed to get wheat fields up and growing. Cotton still looked good, but late-season irrigation may be necessary to finish out the crop. Some fields reached cut out stage, and bolls were rapidly opening. Some producers were considering applying defoliants.

Pasture and cattle conditions were holding very well, though some rangelands and pastures showed signs of maturity and dormancy. Wheat planting continued in Ochiltree County. Wheat producers should get off to a great start as subsoil moisture was excellent. Hotter, dryer weather aided cotton, corn, sorghum and soybean development. Some early planted corn and sorghum fields were harvested. Sorghum was drying down rapidly. Silage harvest neared completion.

NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short, with some reporting very short. Conditions were dry and warm across the district. The last good rain was over three weeks ago. Daytime temperatures jumped back into the 90s with temperatures with lows in the 70s overnight. Soybeans were making beans in the pod, and cotton bolls were opening. The end of the soybean and corn harvests were nearing.

Warm-season pastures looked okay but will certainly need some moisture soon to finish out the final part of the growing season. Cattle still looked good, and grass was still green but declined due to lack of moisture. Producers battled fall armyworms the last several weeks.

FAR WEST: No report.

WEST CENTRAL: Weather conditions were hot, dry and seasonable. Temperatures were mild for a few days but increased late in the reporting period. Soil moisture was declining rapidly due to lack of rainfall. Stock tank levels continued to decline. Preparations for fall planting were underway. Most producers were waiting for moisture to plant wheat and oats. Some early planted wheat was up and growing.

Hay cutting and baling continued. Most sorghum was harvested except for late-planted fields. Armyworm problems continued to increase. Cotton fields were progressing and continued to look good. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good but were beginning to decline due to heat and lack of moisture.

Forages were reaching maturity and not providing much new growth for grazing. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Cattle markets were active and steady. Pecans continued to look promising and remained in fair condition.

SOUTHEAST: Soil moisture was surplus to adequate in most areas but decreased dramatically in some areas. Slightly cooler temperatures and available moisture helped germinate annual cool-season grasses. Late hay cutting occurred in some locations. Good hay regrowth was seen, even with cool evening temperatures.

Jefferson County was in the recovery phase after Hurricane Harvey. Livestock and crops were also recovering. Crops were set back by the storm and subsequent flooding. It will take time for pastures to return to normal. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely from excellent to very poor, with fair ratings being the most common.

SOUTHWEST: Most counties were desperate for rain and even counties that benefited from Hurricane Harvey still needed rain. Temperatures remained high. Farmers prepared fields for wheat. Pasture conditions declined due to lack of rain. Some producers started supplemental feeding.

SOUTH: No rain was reported. Conditions continued to be hot and dry, with very short soil moisture levels in northern portions of the district. High temperatures were mostly in the 90s but reached 100 degrees in Dimmit and Webb counties. Hay was still being produced. Cotton and peanuts were being harvested. Some cotton fields were near harvest completion, and producers were busy spraying regrowth and cleaning fields post-harvest. Some peanut fields remained under irrigation.

Rangeland and pasture conditions declined with most in fair to poor condition. Supplemental feeding was steady or had increased, and calf weaning was underway a little earlier than normal due to hot, dry conditions. Wildlife were also being supplemented. Stock tank levels were declining and were expected to eliminate grazing options in some pastures. Cattle body condition scores declined, but most herds were in fair condition.

Planting of spinach, onions and wheat were active, and cabbage harvest continued. Pecan producers indicated harvest was about three weeks away. Oat planting was expected to finish by the end of the month. Local cattle markets reported above-average offerings with steady prices for all classes of beef cattle. Prices were on an upward trend in some areas.

Ernst Undesser
By Adam Russell, Texas AgriLife Extension September 19, 2017