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East Texas Ag producers battle fall armyworms

WebXtra East Texas ag producers battle fall armyworms
WebXtra East Texas ag producers battle fall armyworms(KTRE)
Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 10:54 AM CDT
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OVERTON, Texas (KTRE) - A familiar foe for farmers and ranchers has returned to East Texas, but producers say they are causing more damage this time around.

Farmer and rancher Joel Kerby of Overton said he’s experienced armyworms nearly every year.

“But I will say this is the earliest I’ve seen fall armyworms show up in our hay meadows this time of year,” Kerby said.

By walking his meadows, he’s already seen damage.

“They were starting to devastate spots in my hay meadows,” Kerby said. “I’d have a spot that would just be completely cleaned with all the leaves being stripped off to the stem close to the Bermuda grass. I knew then it was time to act before I lost any other production.”

“It’s become a really big issue for a lot of producers in Central and East Texas in various cropping systems,” said Vanessa Corriher-Olson, a professor & Texas A&M AgriLife forage extension specialist.

Corriher-Olson said the fall armyworms, come from moths, and have a distinctive white inverted Y on their head.

They’re not harmful to humans, but they march across hay fields, consuming primarily grass in their path but in some cases crops like corn and wheat.

“When we have cooler temperatures and adequate moisture, those moths lay a lot more eggs,” Corriher-Olson said. “They can lay up to 2,000 eggs and then we can have three or four generations in a season.”

Once mature, fall armyworms can grow up to 1.5 inches in length. Experts say just two armyworms per square foot can consume 85 pounds of foliage per acre.

“If you have been fertilizing, had good moisture in your hay production in your pastures in Central or East Texas, you’re at good risk for having armyworms,” Corriher-Olson said. “They can destroy a pasture or hay meadow overnight.”

She recommends walking through pastures early and often, and if you see just two armyworms in one square foot, it’s time to buy pesticides, which is the only way to prevent them from spreading.

“Contact their County Extension Agent for some of those recommendations,” Corriher-Olson said. “And of course, to make sure that they are buying products labeled for pasture and hay production.”

“Be attentive and know your fields and then that way you can catch them before they do much damage,” Kerby said.

Experts say we could continue to have fall armyworm problems or damage until we have a frost in late fall or early winter.

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