Agriculture News: Fall Armyworm looks to be on the ‘march’

By Keenan Bishop Published:

This year it seems as if it has been just one thing after another. You can hardly call it a “normal” year by any means.

UK entomologists, the folks who study insects, are now warning that we should be prepared for an appearance of the Fall Armyworm. This caterpillar is usually just a problem for farmers and homeowners in the western third of the state but there’s a chance we may get visited this fall.

Not the same as the plain old “armyworm,” the fall armyworm is a visitor from Texas that makes its way north until the fall temperatures stop its march. According to UK Entomologist Doug Johnson in Princeton, “Capture of fall armyworm (FAW) moths has increased for the second week in a row, and this week by a huge margin (about half again). Not only has an unprecedented second distinct FAW flight begun, it has surpassed this year’s previous peak in size.

“In addition to the numbers of FAW moths being captured, there is a second situation that gives me pause,” Johnson says. “This second flight peak will be earlier in the season than we normally see, if one occurs. If the current numbers turn out to be the largest capture, then the peak will be approximately two weeks earlier than we would normally expect.

“Putting this in perspective, if we have an average frost date of Oct 22nd, this flight has approximately 5 ½ weeks for the caterpillars to develop and feed on our crops as opposed to a more normal 3 weeks. If frost is late this interval could be even longer.”

He’s not predicting that we’ll be invaded here, he’s just thinking ahead and asking that we scout and be prepared. In fact he goes on with these encouraging words: “Fortunately, the traps in Lexington have just this week captured FAW for the first time this year, and the numbers are small. I doubt that there is any unusual risk in central and eastern portions of our field crop/pasture-hay production area.”

So, keep an eye out just in case. Crops primarily at risk will be newly planted wheat, pasture/hay production and very late maturing soybeans. Even though there are some insecticides available, there is really only one thing that can bring this cycle to a halt – cold weather.

The FAW is a tropical insect that cannot overwinter in Kentucky. In fact, under historic conditions, FAW cannot overwinter outside the gulf coast areas. So, vigilance will be needed until a hard frost stops their northward migration. Certainly, this is not the year for early planting of wheat.

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