August 14, 2014
Alabama farmers are feeling the pinch from an infestation of fall armyworms munching on crops and pastureland. By late July, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) had received reports of armyworms in 47 counties.
Lamar County farmer Will Gilmer said he lost 10 acres of sorghum, but it could have been worse.
“I have never seen that many at one time or that much of a variance in size,” Gilmer said. “Two years ago we lost 15-20 acres of soybeans, but this year, we caught them early.”
Kathy Flanders, ACES entomology and plant pathology professor, said farmers should treat fields when worms range from two to three per square foot. In hay fields, if farmers are close to cutting and see damage, they should cut anyway. For information on controlling armyworms, contact a local Extension office.
“It’s not the worst year, but it’s shaping up to be moderately bad,” Flanders said. “Armyworms reproduce up to six generations in a year, and each generation creeps farther north, reaching New York by fall; hence the name.”
Flanders said infestation reports usually come in mid-July, but this year reports came the first week of July.
Sweep nets are available at county Extension offices and can help farmers detect worms.
“The key is to find them before they’re too big,” Flanders said. “They do 80 percent of their feeding in the last four days of their lives.”
Former row cropper and Bermuda grass producer Frank Talbot of Pike County said the insects have wormed their way into the Wiregrass, too.
“We’ve had a pretty good outbreak of them down here,” Talbot said. “We got an inch of rain one day in late July, and that helped a bit. They do not like rain; they like it hot and dry.”
Visit AlabamaForages.com for updates on the infestation, including a map of reports by county, and email Flanders at firstname.lastname@example.org to report armyworm sightings.