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First hollow stem is the optimal time to remove cattle from wheat pasture (full explanation). We measure first hollow in our September-sown wheat forage plots at Stillwater each year, and normally have approximately 50% of varieties at or past first hollow stem by March 1st. I have posted first hollow stem measurements from these plots in a table at the end of this blog. No varieties are currently at first hollow stem at Stillwater, but given the warm conditions and the estimates from the first hollow stem advisor on the Mesonet, I anticipate we will have some varieties past first hollow stem by the end of the week. We will take another set of measurements at the end of this week and report the results on this blog.
Keep in mind that the numbers reported from Stillwater are likely behind those being observed in southern Oklahoma and ahead of those observed in northern Oklahoma. The First Hollow Stem Advisor on the Oklahoma Mesonet indicates that early varieties in southern Oklahoma are likely past first hollow stem and that early varieties in central Oklahoma will reach this point within a week. Jim Johnson with the Noble Foundation reported that the estimates on the first hollow stem advisor were matching closely with his observations in the field around the Ardmore area. My advice is to start looking for a home for cattle on wheat pasture.
|First hollow stem measured in wheat sown 09/15/2015 at Stillwater, OK.|
|Variety||cm of hollow stem 02/15/16|
|Doublestop CL Plus||0.3|
|Brawl CL Plus||0.1|
First hollow stem occurs just prior to jointing and is the optimal time to remove cattle from wheat pasture. Given the warm forecast for the next two weeks, it is likely that we will start seeing first hollow stem in Oklahoma wheat fields. Grazing past first hollow stem can reduce wheat grain yield by as much as 5% per day and the added cattle gains are not enough to offset the value of the reduced wheat yield.
Similar to previous years, we will monitor occurrence of first hollow stem in our wheat plots at Stillwater and report the findings on this blog. There is also a first hollow stem advisor available on the Oklahoma Mesonet that can assist in determining when to start scouting.
Checking for first hollow stem is fairly easy.
- You must check first hollow stem in a nongrazed area of the same variety and planting date. Variety can affect date of first hollow stem by as much as three weeks and planting date can affect it even more.
- Dig or pull up a few plants and split the largest tiller longitudinally (lengthways) and measure the amount of hollow stem present below the developing grain head. You must dig plants because at this stage the developing grain head may still be below the soil surface.
- If there is 1.5 cm of hollow stem present (see picture below), it is time to remove cattle. 1.5 cm is about the same as the diameter of a dime.
- Detailed information on first hollow stem can be found at www.wheat.okstate.edu under ‘wheat management’ then ‘grazing’
Wheat disease updates are written by Dr. Bob Hunger, OSU Extension Plant Pathologist
Since my last report, I don’t believe a lot has changed with the disease situation. Similar to what I indicated in mid-December, I have continued to find small pustules of powdery mildew and a few scattered leaf rust pustules in rank wheat around Stillwater. The temperature and weather has been such that these two foliar diseases (powdery mildew and leaf rust) have been able to persist but have not increased in the wheat around Stillwater. This seems to be the case for southwestern and south central OK as well.
Gary Strickland (Extn Educator & SWREC Dry-land Cropping Systems Specialist; Jackson/Greer Cnty in SW OK) indicated wheat in SW OK is quite a ways behind the rest of the state and mostly is just now establishing a solid root system. He had sent us a sample last week in which he expected a root rot to be involved, but we were not able to confirm any root rot pathogens. Gary also indicated that he has confirmed Hessian fly at damaging levels in at least a few fields in Jackson Cnty. He is going out in the next few days to scout additional fields. Aaron Henson (Extn Educator; Tillman Cnty in southern OK) indicated wheat in his area varies from quite small to well-established with the majority of the wheat not yet jointing. He is aware of the earlier reports of scattered stripe rust showing in south-central OK, but has not heard anything to indicate increase in incidence or severity. For additional information regarding early season foliar wheat diseases and possible control with an early fungicide application please see:
- E-Pest Alert (Dec 18, 2015; vol. 14, no. 46) at http://entoplp.okstate.edu/pddl/pdidl
- A fact sheet discussing split application of fungicides at www.wheat.okstate.edu
- A February 9th post on this blog
Also around Stillwater, I am beginning to see symptoms indicative of wheat soil-borne mosaic/wheat spindle streak mosaic in areas such as my WSBM/WSSM screening nursery. At this point, it is somewhat difficult to differentiate between symptoms of WSBM/WSSM and discoloration resulting from cold. The photo below shows the contrast between a variety susceptible to WSBM/WSSM and a resistant variety, but was taken about 2-3 weeks later than today. Thus, over the next month as temperature rises and wheat greens up, symptoms will become more striking. However, nearly 100% of varieties planted across Oklahoma are resistant to both these viruses, so this disease complex has not caused a problem to wheat in Oklahoma (or other states) for many years. For more information on the WSBM/WSSM complex, go to: https://www.youtube.com/user/OSUWheat/videos and watch the video on “Wheat Soilborne Mosaic Virus and Wheat Spindle Streak Mosaic Virus.”
The stripe rust epidemic of 2015 is still fresh on the minds of many wheat farmers. Reports of active stripe rust on wheat in southern Oklahoma has producers now wondering if we are in for a repeat in 2016. While it is too early to tell if environmental conditions will favor a stripe rust outbreak in 2016, having active rust on wheat in the area satisfies at least one of the requirements for an epidemic. Most Oklahoma wheat producers will still be best advised to monitor the situation and make the fungicide decision based on yield potential and likelihood of infection when the flag leaf is emerging. Those with fields already showing heavy infection of foliar disease, however, might also benefit from a two-pass fungicide system. A few talking points and items to consider for those considering a two-pass system are posted below. A fact sheet on the topic of split application of fungicides can be found at www.wheat.okstate.edu
When to apply – The first pass in a two-pass fungicide system should be applied just after jointing. Please note that this is well after topdress nitrogen should be applied. For this and other reasons (see Dr. Arnall’s blog), tank mixing fungicides with nitrogen is generally not a good practice. Remember that the purpose of the early fungicide application is to keep disease in check until you come back with a flag leaf application in April. Going too early can result in too large of a gap between applications and enough time for disease to re-establish. Going too late can reduce the return on investment. Timing is everything with fungicides.
How much to apply – Back in the day, the discussion around split fungicide application centered on half rates for the first application. This recommendation was because of cost savings rather than disease management. The availability of low-cost, generic fungicides, though, has changed our philosophy, and a full rate of a low cost fungicide is the standard for split applications.
Which product to choose – Product choice is at the discretion of the consumer. If you are considering how to best spend your season-long fungicide budget, however, I would strongly recommend saving your “best” and perhaps most expensive product for the flag leaf application.
Watch season-long restrictions – As always, please read labels carefully and make note of season-long application restrictions. You don’t want an early fungicide application to remove the ability to apply your preferred product at flag leaf.
By Tom Royer, Extension Entomologist
Heath Sanders could not have made a more prophetic statement for this Extension Entomologist than when he said: “we learn something new about canola every year”. I have learned something new every year that I have been working with canola, and this year is starting to confirm his “prophesy” once again.
This has been a banner year for fall armyworms. They built up populations early, and migrated into Oklahoma earlier than “normal”, attacking sorghum and pasture grasses. Now, they are ready to attack wheat (once it emerges) and possibly, are marching in to graze on newly emerged canola. Dr. Angela Post, OSU Extension Weeds specialist reported that there were caterpillars that appeared to be either beet armyworm or fall armyworms attacking canola. We are getting confirmation on their identity, but regardless, producers need to be vigilant and protect their fields.
I have already discussed their management in wheat http://entoplp.okstate.edu/pddl/pddl/2015/PA14-41.pdf, but now need to alert canola producers about them attacking seedling canola and eliminating stand.
Look for “window pane” damage in young canola plants and/or cut plants. At this time, with canola so small, armyworm and cutworm caterpillars cannot be allowed the chance to reduce stand. The suggested treatment threshold is 1 or more armyworms per row-foot.
Consult CR-7194 Management of Insect and Mite Pests of Small Grains and CR-7667 Management of Insect and Mite Pests in Canola for specific insecticides that are registered for control. Keep in mind that beet and fall armyworms can sometimes be difficult to control, so vigilance is needed by follow-up scouting following an application to make sure control is achieved.
No, this blog post is not about a get rich quick scheme, but there is a way for the average wheat farmer in the southern Great Plains to add $50,000 to $100,000 to the bottom line in a single day. Many soil tests I have pulled have shown as much as 50 to 90 lb/ac of NO3-N in the top 18 inches of soil. Ninety pounds of N equates to about $45 of N fertilizer, and this knowledge could save a 2,500 acre wheat farmer in excess of $100,000 in fertilizer cost. Soil testing is laborious, but the potential economic returns for spending a day or two soil sampling are outstanding.
There is still time to soil sample. Soil samples only take a few days to process once they are in the OSU lab. It is not unusual for transit time to the lab to the slowest part of the process, so if you need a fast turnaround a trip to drop samples in the Ag Hall basement in Stillwater will help (plus you have probably been wanting cheese fries). If you have already applied pre-plant fertilizer or sown wheat, there is still time to assess soil N availability and uptake via the N-Rich Strip. In its simplest form, the N-rich strip is an area where N is not limiting. Either by visual assessment or with the assistance of an optical sensor, you can use the N-rich strip to determine your top dress N requirement, but you must create the N-rich strip this fall.
The bottom line is that a day of soil testing or putting out N-rich strips is well worth your time investment. On another note, how would you like to make money and improve your health at the same time? I have a multi-level marketing opportunity that I can get you in on the ground floor, but don’t tell anyone else. I can only make this deal for you and only today. There will be a small “buy in” fee that you will need to pay cash up front, though.
Partial funding for the research included in this blog post was provided by USDA Project No.2012-02355 through the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Regional Approaches for Adaptation to and Mitigation of Climate Variability and Change
Stories about seed law violations and fines have sprung up occasionally in the farm press over the past few years. These stories have tended to focus on the “penalty” part of the law and the magnitude of the fines rather than how the law protects Oklahoma farmers’ investments in wheat variety development and the provisions in the law that allow farmers to save seed for replanting. The purpose of this article is to answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the PVP law.
What is PVP?
The Plant Variety Protection Act (PVP or PVPA) is a federal seed law designed to protect the intellectual property of plant breeders, seed producers, and those who have funded variety development (in our case OSU and Oklahoma Taxpayers). The PVP law that you read about in the news today was enacted in 1994 and was an amendment to a law originally passed in 1970. The law prohibits the sale of farmer-saved seed without the variety owner’s permission. This protection lasts for 20 years for most crops. The ‘Title V’ you sometimes see tacked on to the end of PVP, refers to an amendment to the federal seed act stating that the variety can only be sold as a class of certified seed and by variety name.
Can I save seed from PVP-protected varieties?
Yes. You can save seed from PVP-protected varieties to plant on land you own or rent. You just cannot sell or trade the seed for planting purposes. A comparable example is an audio cd. You can make extra copies of an audio cd for your own use, such as an extra copy for the truck, without creating any problems. However, if you placed copies of the latest Sturgill Simpson cd for sale on Ebay, you would likely be contacted by the owners of the music regarding your unauthorized sale of their intellectual property.
Can I save seed of Clearfield varieties?
No, because Clearfield varieties are protected by a utility patent which protects a specific gene within the cultivar. Other examples of crop seed with genes protected by a utility patent include Roundup Ready, Bollgard, and Liberty Link. Wheat farmers will likely be seeing greater use of utility patents in the future but to my knowledge Clearfield varieties are the only hard wheat cultivars currently protected by a utility patent.
What about selling variety not stated (VNS) seed?
Not allowed. As indicated earlier, Title V of the federal seed act states that PVP-protected varieties can only be sold by variety name as a certified class of seed. This is one of several “ways-around-the-law” type questions that I am frequently asked at meetings and the answer is almost always no, you cannot do that. Other examples of violations would include: selling feed wheat, trading seed, giving seed away, and selling the standing crop of a PVP-protected variety and saving the seed.
The law just applies to the seller, right?
No. If there is a violation, then all parties involved can be included in the lawsuit. This includes the buyer, seller, seed conditioners, and even the entity spreading/planting the seed for the farmer.
How do I know if a variety is protected?
Certified seed of a protected variety will be clearly marked as such on the seed tag or the bulk label. The OSU Wheat Variety Comparison Chart indicates which varieties are PVP-protected and can be found at www.wheat.okstate.edu under Variety Testing, then under Variety Characteristics. Most varieties are now PVP-protected.
OSU is a public institution, why are they PVP-protecting varieties?
First and foremost, OSU acquires PVP-protection for new wheat cultivars to protect our (OSU, farmers, and taxpayers) collective investment in variety development. It takes 10 – 15 years to develop a wheat variety and this is not a cheap process. Without PVP protection others could reproduce an OSU wheat variety and profit from its sale without any benefit returned to farmers or OSU. PVP-protection ensures that when you buy an OSU variety, you are getting exactly the variety you are paying for and OSU has ensured quality-control standards through the certification process. It also ensures that a portion of the purchase price is returned to OSU for re-investment in the wheat breeding program where it is used to develop well-adapted varieties and ensure that the public sector remains competitive in wheat variety development.
Where can I find more information?
I am an agronomist, not a lawyer, so this article was meant to only hit the high points. A complete copy of the law (45 pages) can be found with a Google search of ‘plant variety protection act’. Texas AgriLife Extension also has a good summary of the law that can be found with a Google search for ‘plant variety protection act TAMU’.
Planting date: Much of the winter wheat in Oklahoma is sown with the intent of being used as a dual-purpose crop. In this system wheat is grazed by cattle from late October to early March, and then harvested for grain in early summer. In a grain-only system, wheat is generally planted in October, but in a dual-purpose system wheat is planted in early to mid-September to maximize forage production. Planting wheat early significantly increases the likelihood that diseases such as mite-transmitted viruses, the aphid/barley yellow dwarf complex, and root and foot rots will be more prevalent and more severe. For more detailed information on planting date and seed treatment considerations on wheat, see CR-7088 (Effect of Planting Date and Seed Treatment on Diseases and Insect Pests of Wheat)
Mite-transmitted virus diseases. These include wheat streak mosaic (WSM), wheat mosaic (formerly called high plains disease), and Triticum mosaic (TrM). All are transmitted by wheat curl mite (WCMs). WCMs and these viruses survive in crops such as wheat and corn, as well as many grassy weeds and volunteer wheat. In the fall, WCMs spread to emerging seedling wheat, feed on that seedling wheat, and transmit virus to the young wheat plants. Wheat infected in the fall is either killed by the next spring or will be severely damaged. Seed treatments are not effective in controlling these virus diseases. However, planting later in the fall (after October 1 in northern OK and after October 15 in southern OK) and controlling volunteer wheat are two practices that provide some control. It is critical that volunteer wheat is completely dead for at least two weeks prior to emergence of seedling wheat because WCMs have a life span of 7-10 days. Thus, destroying volunteer wheat at least two weeks prior to emergence of seedling wheat will greatly reduce mite numbers in the fall. In addition to these cultural controls, two winter wheat varieties (RonL from Kansas and Mace from Nebraska) have resistance to WSM; however, their adaptation to production is limited to northwestern Oklahoma. For more information on mite-transmitted virus diseases, see OSU Fact Sheet 7328 (Wheat Streak Mosaic, High Plains Disease and Triticum Mosaic: Three Virus Diseases of Wheat in Oklahoma)
Aphid/barley yellow dwarf (BYD) complex: Viruses that cause BYD are transmitted by many cereal-feeding aphids. BYD infections that occur in the fall are the most severe because virus has a longer time to damage plants as compared to infections that occur in the spring. Several steps can be taken to help manage BYD. First, a later planting date (after October 1 in northern Oklahoma and after October 15 in southern Oklahoma) helps reduce the opportunity for fall infection. Second, some wheat varieties (e.g., Duster, Endurance, Gallagher, Iba, Doublestop CL+, Bentley, Everest, Winterhawk, Redhawk) tolerate BYD better than other varieties; however, be aware that no wheat variety has a high level of resistance to the aphid/BYD complex. Third, control aphids that transmit the viruses that cause BYD. This can be done by applying contact insecticides to kill aphids, or by treating seed before planting with a systemic insecticide. Unfortunately, by the time contact insecticides are applied, aphids frequently have already transmitted the virus(es) that cause BYD. Systemic seed-treatment insecticides including Gaucho (imidacloprid) and Cruiser (thiamethoxam) can control aphids during the fall after planting. This may be particularly beneficial if wheat is planted early to obtain forage. Be sure to thoroughly read the label before applying any chemical.
Hessian fly: Hessian fly infestations occur in the fall and spring. Fall infestations arise from over-summering pupae that emerge when climate conditions become favorable. Delayed planting (after October 1 in northern Oklahoma, and after October 15 in southern Oklahoma) can help reduce the threat of Hessian fly, but a specific “fly free date” does not exist for most of Oklahoma as it does in Kansas and more northern wheat-growing states. This is because smaller, supplementary broods of adult flies emerge throughout the fall and winter. Some wheat varieties are either resistant (e.g. Duster, Gallagher, SY-Southwind, LCS Wizard, Winterhawk) or partially resistant (e.g. Everest, Iba, Jackpot, PostRock, Ruby Lee, SY-Gold, T-153, Tam 304, WB-Stout) to Hessian fly infestations. Hessian fly infestations can be reduced somewhat by destroying volunteer wheat in and around the field at least two weeks prior to emergence of seedling wheat. Seed treatments that contain imidacloprid or thiamethoxam will also help reduce fly fall infestations, especially if combined with delayed planting and volunteer destruction. For more information on Hessian fly, see OSU Fact Sheet: EPP-7086 (Hessian fly Management in Oklahoma Winter Wheat)
Root and foot rots: These include several diseases caused by fungi such as dryland (Fusarium) root rot, Rhizoctonia root rot (sharp eyespot), common root rot, take-all, and eyespot (strawbreaker). Controlling root and foot rots is difficult. There are no resistant varieties, and although fungicide seed treatments with activity toward the root and foot rots are available, their activity usually involves early-season control or suppression rather than control at a consistently high level throughout the season. Often, there also are different “levels” of activity related to different treatment rates, so again, CAREFULLY read the label of any seed treatment to be sure activity against the diseases and/or insects of concern are indicated, and be certain that the seed treatment(s) is being used at the rate indicated on the label for activity against those diseases and/or insects. Later planting (after October 1 in northern Oklahoma and after October 15 in southern Oklahoma) also can help reduce the incidence and severity of root rots, but planting later will not entirely eliminate the presence or effects of root rots. If you have a field with a history of severe root rot, consider planting that field as late as possible or plan to use it in a “graze-out” fashion if that is consistent with your overall plan. For some root rots, there are specific factors that contribute to disease incidence and severity. For example, a high soil pH (>6.5) greatly favors disease development of the root rot called take-all. OSU soil test recommendations factor in this phenomenon by reducing lime recommendations when continuous wheat is the intended crop. Another practice that can help limit take-all and some of the other root rots is the elimination of residue. However, elimination of residue by tillage or burning does not seem to affect the incidence or severity of eyespot (strawbreaker).
Seed treatments: There are several excellent reasons to plant seed wheat treated with an insecticide/fungicide seed treatment. These include:
- Control of bunts and smuts, including common bunt (also called stinking smut), loose smut, and flag smut (for more information on flag smut, go to end of this report). The similarity of these names can be confusing. All affect the grain of wheat, but whereas common bunt and flag smut spores carryover onseed or in the soil, loose smut carries over in the seed. Seed treatments are highly effective in controlling all three of these bunts/smuts. If common bunt (stinking smut) was observed in a field and that field is to be planted again with wheat, then planting certified wheat seed treated with a fungicide effective against common bunt is strongly recommended. If either common bunt or loose smut was observed in a field, grain harvested from that field should not be used as seed the next year. However, if grain harvested from such a field must be used as seed wheat, treatment of that seed at a high rate of a systemic or a systemic + contact seed treatment effective against common bunt and loose smut is strongly recommended. For more information on common bunt & loose smut, see: http://www.entoplp.okstate.edu/ddd/hosts/wheat.htm and consult the “2015 OSU Extension Agents’ Handbook of Insect, Plant Disease, and Weed Control (OCES publication E-832),” and/or contact your County Extension Educator.
- Enhance seedling emergence, stand establishment and forage production by suppressing root, crown and foot rots. This was discussed above under “Root and Foot Rots.”
- Early season control of the aphid/BYDV complex. This can be achieved by using a seed treatment containing an insecticide. Be sure that the treatment includes an insecticide labeled for control of aphids.
- Control fall foliar diseases including leaf rust and powdery mildew. Seed treatments are effective in controlling foliar diseases (especially leaf rust and powdery mildew) in the fall, which may reduce the inoculum level of these diseases in the spring. However, this control should be viewed as an added benefit and not necessarily as a sole reason to use a seed treatment.
- Suppression of early emerged Hessian fly. Research suggests that some suppression can be achieved, but an insecticide seed treatment has little residual activity past the seedling stage.
A final consideration for fall 2015: In the text above, I made reference to “flag smut,” which is a smut of wheat I have not mentioned previously. Flag smut occurs in the U.S., in particular, the Pacific Northwest. It also has been reported in the Plains States, being first reported in Kansas in the 1920s. However, flag smut has not been observed in the Central Plains for many years until this past spring when it was found in around 20 counties in Kansas from April-June. No flag smut was observed on wheat in Oklahoma in 2015, but much of the wheat in Oklahoma had been harvested when I found out about flag smut occurring in Kansas. Flag smut is similar to common bunt (stinking smut) in terms of its disease cycle, but spores of this fungus erupt through the leaves rather than replace the wheat grain as with common bunt. Additionally, leaves and tillers infected with flag smut often are twisted and deformed.
For more information on flag smut, please go to the following links. The first link is to a press release made in mid-July, 2015 on the finding of flag smut in Kansas. The second link is a KSU fact sheet on flag smut.
By: Dr. Bob Hunger, Extension OSU Wheat Pathologist and Dr. Tom Royer, OSU Extension Entomologist
Heath Sanders, Canola Field Specialist with Great Plains Canola, was scouting some wheat fields for armyworms in southern Oklahoma this past week and sent us some photos of damaged wheat heads that were being fed upon by wheat head armyworm. He stated that he had a hard time finding the worms because they blended in so well with the color of the wheat.
The insect causing the damage was Faronta diffusa, known as the wheat head armyworm. Unlike the armyworm, which was discussed last week, the wheat head armyworm is very capable of damaging wheat kernels. Adult moths lay eggs on plants in the spring, and the larva feed directly on the grain heads, mostly at night. The caterpillars range in color from gray to greenish with distinct yellow, white and brown stripes going lengthwise across the body. They typically have a larger head relative to their body. Because the larvae are so variable in color, the best way to identify them is to send in a sample to the Plant Disease and Insect Diagnostic Lab.
Fields can be scouted with a sweep net to determine numbers of caterpillars. There is no established treatment threshold because it rarely causes economic damage and more often than not the damage is not noticed until the grain is harvested. If wheat is at soft dough, consider treating the field to reduce damage. This insect is often found along the margins of fields so if scouting shows that they are restricted to the field edges, consider spraying the field margins with a border spray. Pay careful attention to pre-harvest intervals when selecting an insecticide.
This insect rarely causes significant damage. The major issue with wheat head armyworm damage has to do with the grain grading which is classified as IDK (Insect Damaged Kernels). Grain elevators will dock wheat when samples contain 6-31 damaged kernels per 100 grams of seed. To coincide with the Food and Drug Administration’s defect action levels, the U.S. Standards for Wheat consider wheat containing 32 or more insect-damaged kernels per 100 grams as U.S. Sample Grade. This grain is unfit for human consumption and can only be sold as animal feed. It is important to note that although the wheat is damaged, it is not an indication of an on-going infestation of grain weevil or some other stored grain insect pest.
The best strategy to manage the problem at harvest is to combine wheat harvested from head rows with wheat harvested from the rest of the field to dilute IDK percentages. Treating a field with insecticide at harvest will be of little help because the damage is already done, most of the caterpillars have already pupated and remaining larvae can’t feed on the mature wheat grain.
If a load is docked or rejected, check on insurance options. Most crop insurance policies have a Quality Loss Adjustment clause that covers the damage up to 25% of the crop’s value, regardless of the yield. Work with your elevator to collect and store samples of the wheat that can be used as evidence of the in-field damage.
This link will access Subpart M for US Standards for Wheat which discusses grades and grade requirements for wheat: http://www.gipsa.usda.gov/fgis/standards/810wheat.pdf
For more information on this topic, contact Tom A. Royer, Extension Entomologist at email@example.com or Edmond Bonjour, Extension Stored Grain Entomologist
We have a late-maturing wheat crop that finally received some needed rain. I received a report of armyworms infesting wheat in the Vernon, Texas area. Armyworm infestations typically occur in late April through the first two weeks of May, but the cooler spring we are experiencing this year may have delayed their development.
Early signs of an infestation include leaves with ragged margins that have been chewed. You may find “frass” i.e. the excrement from armyworm caterpillars, around the base of wheat stems. They also tend to clip heads from developing wheat plants. The head clipping I have noticed over the years us usually restricted to secondary tillers with very small, green heads that would not likely contribute much to yield.
Scout for armyworms, at 5 or more locations looking for “curled up worms”. Armyworm caterpillars tend to feed at night, so a good strategy is to bring a flashlight and look at fields after dusk when they are feeding up on the plant stems. The suggested treatment threshold for armyworms is 4-5 unparasitized caterpillars per linear foot of row.
Armyworms have a number of natural enemies that help keep populations in check, if given a chance. In particular, parasitic wasps and flies attack them. If you find small white cocoons littered on the ground that are about ¾ the size of a cue tip, the natural enemies have already taken care of the problem.
If wheat is past the soft dough stage, control is not warranted unless obvious head clipping can be seen and caterpillars are still present and feeding. Worms feeding on the awns when plants are past soft dough will not cause enough yield loss to justify the expense of an insecticide application that is solely intended for armyworm control. When choosing to spray, keep in mind that some insecticides require a 30 day waiting period for harvest.
Consult CR-7194 Management of Insect and Mite Pests of Small Grains for information on insecticides registered for control of armyworms.
For more information on this topic, contact Tom A. Royer, Extension Entomologist at firstname.lastname@example.org