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Hessian fly strikes back!

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David Marburger

David Marburger

Since April 2016, I have served as the Small Grains Extension Specialist at Oklahoma State University. My research and extension efforts focus on delivering science-based recommendations in order to increase small grains production and profitability for stakeholders throughout Oklahoma and the southern Great Plains.

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Back in 2006 it appeared that Hessian fly was going to be the demise of no-till wheat production in Oklahoma. Early planting, lack of crop rotation, and no-till monocrop wheat all create a favorable environment for Hessian fly, and there were several early-sown fields that were completely lost to the Hessian fly in 2006 & 2007. About that same time OSU release a variety named Duster that was an excellent grazing wheat with good yield potential. Duster also happened to be Hessian fly resistant. (If you are not a Star Wars fan, skip the next sentence) This resistance was a clear proton torpedo in the thermal exhaust port of the fully operational Hessian fly Death Star.

Mature Hessian fly larvae are brown in color and often referred to as flaxseed. Tillers with larvae will not recover and will eventually die and slough off.

Mature Hessian fly larvae are brown in color and often referred to as flaxseed. Tillers with larvae will not recover and will eventually die and slough off.

Over the past four years, I have received very few calls about Hessian fly. It seemed as thought the adoption of Duster and unfavorable environmental conditions resulted in a dramatic reduction in Hessian fly in Oklahoma, but there are some indications Hessian fly is making a return. I have received a few calls about Hessian fly this fall, most of them from southwest Oklahoma. In most cases producers had  either switched to a newer variety that was not Hessian fly resistant or changed to a nonresistant variety because they were displeased with Duster’s performance the past two years.

There are no curative treatments for Hessian fly in wheat. If you currently have a field that is infested with Hessian fly, the first step is to assess the level of infestation. If a plant with four viable tillers has one infected, then the impact on yield might not be that great, as we could have additional tillering in late winter. A field with the majority of tillers infected is likely a good candidate for graze out.

It is never too soon to be thinking of how to limit the impact of Hessian fly on next year’s crop. Planting a resistant variety still remains the most effective technique of combating the Hessian fly menace in Oklahoma for dual-purpose wheat farmers. To determine which varieties are resistant, consult a current OSU Wheat Variety Comparison Chart. Insecticide seed treatments are effective early in the season, but do not typically last long enough to provide season long control in Oklahoma. Cultural practices such as crop rotation and delaying planting until mid October will also help reduce Hessian fly infestations but might not be suitable for all operations.


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