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Farm and Ranch News September 26, 2017  RSS feed

Texas Crop and Weather Report:

Sugarcane aphids not a major problem for prepared Texas sorghum producers
Writer: Adam Russell

The tiny yellow specs on this sorghum plant are sugarcane aphids. A relative newcomer to the state’s forage and grain sorghum crops, the aphids caused multi-million-dollar losses in 2014 and 2015, but did far less damage this year as prepared producers, cropping conditions and predators kept their numbers in check.The tiny yellow specs on this sorghum plant are sugarcane aphids. A relative newcomer to the state’s forage and grain sorghum crops, the aphids caused multimillion-dollar losses in 2014 and 2015, but did far less damage this year as prepared producers, cropping conditions and predators kept their numbers in check.(Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Rod Santa Ana) The tiny yellow specs on this sorghum plant are sugarcane aphids. A relative newcomer to the state’s forage and grain sorghum crops, the aphids caused multi-million-dollar losses in 2014 and 2015, but did far less damage this year as prepared producers, cropping conditions and predators kept their numbers in check.
The tiny yellow specs on this sorghum plant are sugarcane aphids. A relative newcomer to the state’s forage and grain sorghum crops, the aphids caused multimillion-dollar losses in 2014 and 2015, but did far less damage this year as prepared producers, cropping conditions and predators kept their numbers in check.
(Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Rod Santa Ana)
COLLEGE STATION – 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.

“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.


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