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Extension Entomology

Category: Alfalfa

Alfalfa Update

–by Dr. Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

 

Potato leafhoppers are still common in all alfalfa fields sampled in the last 7-10 days, unless they have been swathed during that period of time.  Fields swathed within the last week did not have enough potato leafhoppers to reach a treatment threshold.  However, fields swathed just 10-14 days earlier are once again loaded with these little lime green, wedge-shaped leafhoppers.

There do seem to be good populations of green lacewings in uncut alfalfa fields.  However, they do not appear to be impacting the potato leafhopper populations.  We did pick up one alfalfa weevil larva and one adult in an uncut alfalfa field but the alfalfa weevils should not be of concern as major defoliators until next spring.

 

 

Alfalfa Update

–by Dr. Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

Potato leafhoppers have been infesting alfalfa fields throughout north central Kansas for at least the last month.  They continue to be very active, which is causing quite a bit of leaf yellowing, often called ‘hopper burn’, and even stem and whole-plant stress.  Typically, swathing is sufficient to manage leafhopper populations.  However, they have been actively reproducing and there are many nymphs, so it will be especially important to continue to scout these fields after swathing.  If a stubble spray is deemed necessary after swathing, one application is often highly effective and re-infestation is unusual.

 

Alfalfa caterpillars are also quite common in alfalfa fields, where they feed on foliage, although they rarely do enough damage to warrant an insecticide application.  They will eventually pupate and then turn into a yellow or white sulphur butterfly.

Bean Leaf Beetles in Soybeans

–by Dr. Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

Soybeans seem to be growing really well around north central Kansas.  As these plants start germinating and growing, however, they provide very attractive hosts for bean leaf beetles.

 

These soybean pests have been inhabiting alfalfa fields and grassy areas since last fall, waiting for these first soybeans.  They are very efficient at finding young, succulent soybeans when the plants start emerging.  They are also relatively unique as foliage feeders because they usually chew round and/or oblong holes in the leaves.

These beetles can eat an alarming number of holes in these small plants.  However, the young plants are very resilient at overcoming this leaf feeding and so there is normally very little impact on yield.  For more information on bean leaf beetle biology, treatment thresholds, and management options please see the following:

Bean Leaf Beetles: https://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF2824.pdf

Soybean Insect Management Guide: https://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF743.pdf

 

 

Alfalfa Update

–by Dr. Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

Alfalfa weevil feeding activity has slowed significantly in north central Kansas, at least south of I-70.  North of I-70, larvae are still developing and thus feeding, but even in the northern counties this feeding and resultant damage should be significantly reduced by the end of the next week.  There are still some small larvae but the majority of populations are pupating or have pupated.  Adult weevils are still hanging out in alfalfa fields and probably will until that 1st cutting, or temperatures get into the mid-80’s or warmer.

Alfalfa Update

–by Dr. Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

 

Alfalfa weevil populations in north central Kansas seem to be developing as expected.  Fields sampled this week that had not yet been treated had greatly reduced foliage and were showing obvious signs of significant larval feeding, especially compared to fields that had been treated.

 

 

The good news is that the treated fields seem to be doing well and the untreated fields will probably only continue to be seriously impacted for about another week.  Weevil populations are predominately pupae, pre-pupae, or mature larvae which should cease feeding in the next few days.

 

 

This should give the alfalfa a chance to recover.  However, in untreated fields, and even fields that were treated later, after a majority of the larvae pupated, may have some adult feeding, as they may remain in fields until the 1st cutting or until temperatures start getting into the higher 80’s °F.  Adults feed a little on foliage and/or may cause ‘barking’ on stems, but this usually doesn’t stress plants too much unless there are significant numbers of adults.

 

Very few aphids were detected, but there were a few so periodical sampling should continue to ensure that these aphid populations remain at insignificant levels.

 

Alfalfa Update

— by Dr. Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

Alfalfa weevils are cool weather insects, thriving when temperatures are between 50-75°F and thus mostly affect alfalfa prior to the 1st cutting. That has been the case for about the last two weeks in north central KS. Temperatures have been on the cool side and the alfalfa has not been growing as well as most producers would like.  However, alfalfa weevils have been very active to the point where there are many pupae and even pupal webbing with holes indicating the adult weevils have already emerged and dispersed.  Infestations as of 6 April were composed of very small 1st instar larvae to larger, more mature 3rd instar larvae, as well as pupae, and newly developed adults.  Also, lady beetle larvae were quite common in most alfalfa fields, but no aphids were detected.

Alfalfa weevil feeding damage

 

Alfalfa weevil feeding damage – close

 

Alfalfa Update

–by  Dr. Jeff Whitworth, Dr. Holly Schwarting & JR Ewing

Alfalfa weevil larvae continue to hatch throughout north central Kansas.  Plants still do not seem to be growing very much.  The larvae that have hatched are still tucked inside the tightly closed terminals where they do not shake out very readily when utilizing the “shake bucket” sampling technique.  Thus, many producers are underestimating infestation levels.  So, when sampling to determine treatment threshold, be careful to account for the small stems that hold larvae which aren’t shaking loose.  These small plants need to be totally pulled apart to get an accurate count on alfalfa weevil larvae.

22 March, 2017 – Showing little growth in alfalfa

 

As of 22 March, there were various developmental stages of larvae.  Pea aphids were still present in all alfalfa fields that we checked.  However, no infestation level that would be of concern was detected.  Also some producers have/are burning the existing alfalfa as a form of weevil and weed control.

Picture of an apparatus for burning provided by “The Specimen”

 

Alfalfa Update

–by Dr. Jeff Whitworth, Dr. Holly Schwarting & JR Ewing

Alfalfa weevil larvae have been hatching throughout north central and south central Kansas for the last couple of weeks.  However, as of 9 March, there doesn’t seem to be much feeding or development yet (Photo1).  There are also a few of these tiny larvae that are dead (Photo2).  Because these larvae are so small and vulnerable it is difficult to determine the cause of death.  At least some of the mortality could be related to weather fluctuations that have reached mid 70’s for several days but also dropping into the mid to low 20’s some nights.

 

 

 

Most of these larvae are so small that they are well enclosed within the plant terminals to the point that they cannot be dislodged by shaking the stems into a bucket, as the most accurate sampling method specifies.  This can definitely cause you to underestimate larval populations.  Probably the easiest solution is to hold off sampling until the middle of next week, if the weather turns cooler as predicted.  There are a few more mature larvae present, along with adult weevils (Photos 3, 4). Adults will probably continue depositing eggs for a few more weeks, thus extending the period of larval hatching.

 

 

There are also a few pea aphids present.  Populations do not seem to be increasing now, and there are lady beetles and parasitoid wasps actively attacking these aphids.  Also, reports of cowpea aphids in south central Kansas bear watching.  These aphids are usually more numerous in warmer summer months.  They can add stress to plants by feeding, but they also produce copious quantities of honeydew which can become covered with sooty mold.  This may further stress alfalfa by interfering with photosynthesis, especially with small plants coming out of winter dormancy and experiencing dry conditions and fluctuating temperatures.

 

 

 

 

Alfalfa weevil status

–Jeff Whitworth, Extension Entomologist: Holly Schwarting, Entomology Research Assoc.; Steve Watson, Agronomy; Mary Knapp, Weather Data Library

Thanks to the unusually warm winter, alfalfa weevil larvae are already present in some areas. Many more will no doubt be hatching in the next few days to weeks. Alfalfa weevils will continue to hatch and larvae continue to develop any time temperatures exceed 48°F.

 

Thus, it looks like larvae will be emerging, and damage progressing, relatively quickly. Whether this warm weather will compress the alfalfa weevil larval feeding so that the period of damage is not as stretched out as usual remains to be seen. There are also lady beetles active in the alfalfa fields, as well as a few pea aphids. The treatment threshold we use for alfalfa weevil insecticide applications is 30-50% infestation, i.e. 1 larva/2-3 stems.

 

Alfalfa weevils are cool-weather insects. Adults lay eggs in alfalfa fields in the fall or even the winter. Most of these eggs survive the winter. Eggs hatch and larvae emerge after accumulating enough degree days or thermal units, normally in early spring. Alfalfa weevil adults also lay eggs in the spring, but in many cases the first larvae to emerge are from eggs that were laid in the fall and overwintered.

 

That said, an anomaly we encountered in the fall of 2016 was a significant infestation of relatively large (2nd and 3rd instar) larvae from mid-November to mid-December. Alfalfa weevils normally overwinter as eggs or adults – not larvae. In the last week we could find none of these more mature larvae, or any pupae. So, hopefully they perished in the colder weather.

Figure 1. Alfalfa weevil larvae collected Nov. 16, 2016 in Dickinson Co.

 

 

Figure 2. Alfalfa weevil larva collected Feb. 22, 2017 in Dickinson Co.

However, as of February 22 we did start finding newly hatched larvae in north central Kansas (Figure 2). Obviously the larvae hatching out now are coming from eggs deposited prior to Jan. 1, 2017. The return of below freezing temperatures may kill those very small, young larvae, especially if they stay in the plant terminals. But, they may survive if they crawl down the plant and get in the plant residue where they will be protected. So, scouting should continue as follows:

 

 

Early scouting for alfalfa weevil

 

Scouting for alfalfa weevil larvae should start after plants break dormancy – which means now. A degree day or thermal unit accumulation system can be used to predict when to initiate scouting. Insect development is controlled by temperature. This can be used to help manage these pests. Weevil activity has been tracked in Kansas for the past few years and has been used to generate recom­mendations (Table 1).

 

 

Table 1. Approximate degree days required for alfalfa weevil development

Degree Days or Thermal Units Stage Importance
25–300 Eggs develop and hatch In stems
301–450 1st and 2nd instars Leaf pinholing – start sampling
450–600 2nd and 3rd instars Defoliation
600–750 3rd and 4th instars Defoliation
750+ Pupa to adult Adults – some feeding – oversummering

 

To calculate a degree day, record the daily high tempera­ture anytime it exceeds 48ºF. For example, if there is only one day in January that the temperature exceeded 48ºF, take that temperature and add the lowest temperature for that day, or 48ºF, whichever is higher. Then divide by 2 to calculate the average tempera­ture for that day. Next, subtract 48ºF.

As an example, say there was one day in January when the high temperature was 60ºF and the low was 35ºF. You would use 48ºF as the default value for the low instead of 35ºF. The calculation in this case would be:

[(60 + 48)/2] – 48 = 54 – 48 = 6 degree days (or weevil development units)

 

The following chart from K-State’s Weather Data Library shows examples of the degree days that have accumulated for the period for Jan. 1 – Feb. 21, 2017 and for last fall:

 

 

Do not be too quick to treat for alfalfa weevil. Wait until the field reaches the treatment threshold. Treating too early is not only unnecessary, it can also have detrimental effects by killing beneficial insects.

 

For more details, see Alfalfa Weevils, K-State publication MF-2999, at your local county Extension office, or http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF2999.pdf

 

 

Other early spring alfalfa insects

 

While scouting for alfalfa weevils, you will probably also notice a few pea aphids. These are also early season potential pests. However, in the past few years pea aphids have seemed to be adequately controlled by adult lady beetles. This year seems to be starting that way as well, with a few pea aphids, but also many adult lady beetles present.

Figure 3. Pea aphid on alfalfa leaf.

 

Also, producers need to keep an eye out for army cutworms as there were some reports of army cutworm activity last fall. Army cutworms start feeding again any time temperatures are above 50 degrees F. Armyworms are another potential problem, but probably a little later in the spring.

 

Those are the early season pests which have the most potential for damaging alfalfa prior to the first cutting. For more information on control, see K-State publication MF-809, Alfalfa Insect Management 2017, at: http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF809.pdf

Alfalfa

–by Dr. Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

Alfalfa pests are still causing concern among alfalfa producers.  In north central Kansas the alfalfa has yet to become dormant, at least as of 29 Nov.  Also, in these slowly growing fields the pea aphids seem to be doing very well and no beneficials, which might help to control them, were detected.  Also, alfalfa weevil larvae are still actively feeding on leaf tissue.  One potato leafhopper was also picked up in sweep net samples.  Hopefully, the colder winter weather will eliminate the pea aphids and alfalfa weevil larvae!

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