The Sugarcane Aphid Is Decimating Sorghum Fields and Affecting Yields

Sep 17, 2015 11:00 PM EDT | By Mikey Blanco

Kansas farmers have a new pest to worry about: sugarcane aphids. Sorghum is not as widely grown as other crops, but the small farms which cultivate it now have to double their efforts to get rid of this new threat. "The sorghum-loving sugarcane aphid populations now overwinter in Texas and are passively swept northward when the weather warms," said Kansas State University entomologist Sarah Zukoff.

Southeastern states have been battling different kinds of aphids for years now but the sugarcane aphid was detected in Texas only in 2013. Since then, they have spread to all surrounding states. The biggest problem that these aphids bring to farmers is their "honeydew," Salina reported.

Not only do crop yields suffer from these pests devouring them, the substance called "honeydew" that they excrete interferes with grain harvest, according to Midwest Producer. This has major implications for Kansas as it is, by a large margin, the top producer of sorghum varieties. Last year, Kansas produced almost 200 million bushels while the national number 2, Texas, produced 137 million bushels.

The sugarcane aphid has also proven itself resistant to many types of insecticide. Caution must be taken by farmer as conventional pesticides kill off predators and actually increase the numbers of the destructive sugarcane aphid, Farmtalk Newspaper reported.

A couple of exceptions have been found, however, and they are also safe for the aphids' predators. Transform by Dow Agrosciences and Sivanto by Bayer Cropscience are, so far, the best options for farmers to beat the new pest.

These sugarcane aphids can be found underneath sorghum leaves. Infected ones will have a honeydew coating and will appear shiny. These leaves will then become colonized with sooty mold shortly after in humid conditions.

Zukoff advises farmers to scout their fields once a week by walking 25 feet into a field and then checking out sorghum plants along 50 feet of row. The upper and lower canopies from 15 to 20 plants per location must be inspected to be thorough.

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