Hessian fly pressure not as bad this year, but growers should still be watchful

In Southeast Farm Press

by Paul L. Hollis, Auburn University College of Agriculture

Climate predictions for the upcoming fall and winter months indicate that Alabama wheat producers will have fewer problems this season with the Hessian fly, but now’s not the time to completely let down your guard.

Results of studies have shown that Hessian fly infestation and yield losses are least during an El Niño climate event—a wetter and cooler phase—which is the forecast for the coming months.

“But that doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about the Hessian fly on wheat,” said Kathy Flanders, professor and Extension entomologist in Auburn University’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

The Hessian fly is one of the key insect pests of wheat, causing millions of dollars in damage each year. For that reason alone, farmers should not ignore the pest, Flanders said.

“Hessian fly populations and pressure will be less than average this growing season because we’ll be in an El Niño climate phase for the fall and winter,” she said. “That’s because of the biology of the pest and the rainfall patterns common with this climate phase.”

But some growers are at greater risk than others, said Flanders.

“You’ll have the greatest risk of Hessian fly pressure or damage if you need to plant on the earlier edge of the planting date window, if you’re planting susceptible varieties or if you’re planting wheat after wheat,” she said. “Regardless of the climate phase, you’ll want to be careful when selecting varieties to plant.”

Progress has been made in developing wheat varieties resistant to Hessian fly, but it’s an ongoing process.

“It has been an arms race of sorts to get the good genes into the plant so wheat will resist the insects,” Flanders said. “But they eventually overcome the resistance, which is why we’re always monitoring the Hessian fly on wheat.”

In 2014, Alabama farmers planted 255,000 acres of winter wheat for a total production of more than 15 million bushels. The value of this past year’s crop was approximately $92 million. Planting dates in the state range from mid-October in the northern regions to the first part of December in the south.

It hasn’t been so long ago, Flanders said, when growers had only a couple of options when it came to planting Hessian fly–resistant wheat.

“We have more options now. That’s good news for us, and it tells us plant breeders have been able to catch up a bit. But there also are varieties with no Hessian fly resistance, or the resistance isn’t as great as with others. Some of our varieties with better yield potential are susceptible to Hessian fly, and growers should avoid those in high-risk situations.”

Flanders will continue to evaluate varieties for resistance to Hessian fly this fall and winter at Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station research centers throughout the state.

She expects the risk of economic losses from the pest to continue for several reasons, including the adoption of crop rotation schemes that lead to planting wheat in the same field in consecutive years, the use of wheat as a cover crop, shifts to an earlier wheat planting date and increased wheat acreage.

Read the rest of the story in Southeast Farm Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: