Agricultural producers in northern areas of the state are expressing growing concerns about the worst armyworm infestation in years, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service reports.
"This is probably the worst situation producers have seen in this area in 15 or 20 years," said Dr. Chris Sansone of San Angelo, extension entomologist. Armyworms are the larval form of a moth that feed on lawns, wheat and improved pastures. Sansone said armyworms derived their name by consuming most available foliage in an area and then migrating as a group in search of more foliage. Producers are concerned about how the infestation might affect this year's wheat crop.
"The big concern right now is that we have some wheat that is maturing, and they are feeding on it," Sansone said. "If there is not any wheat around, they are feeding on grain sorghum fields, hay fields and corn fields."
Sansone said the high cost of insecticide is a large economic concern for producers.
"We've also had some fields where producers didn't feel it was economically justifiable to spray, and the caterpillars ate all the leaves and ate the flag leaf, which means we will probably have some type of yield reduction," Sansone said. "We don't know how much right now."
Emory Boring of Vernon, extension entomologist, said the first sign of armyworm infestation is relatively easy for producers to detect.
"The first sign of an armyworm infestation is usually the damage caused by the larvae feeding on the lower leaves of grass plants," Boring said. While armyworms may be easy to detect, Sansone said much of the damage usually occurs before producers realize they are in the field.
"They are fairly easy to control. The difficult part is that they are hard to find because they get lower in the canopy during the daylight," Sansone said. "They come out at night or at dusk. So the hard part in controlling them is that sometimes they will do most of their feeding before producers realize they are in the field."
Sansone said the cool, wet weather this year is one reason for the large infestation, and as temperatures continue to rise, armyworms will start to migrate northward.
Extension director Bob Robinson of Amarillo reported armyworm damage beginning in the Panhandle.
"Armyworms are of some concern," Robinson said, "although no economic infestations have been reported in the immediate area." The following specific livestock, crop and weather conditions were reported by district extension directors:
--In the Panhandle, soil moisture is adequate. Corn is 80% planted, but little sorghum has been planted. Recent rains have helped the rating of wheat. Armyworms are of some concern. Sunflower planting has been delayed by wet soil. Some carrot fields have been replanted due to heavy rain.
--In the South Plains, soil moisture is excellent. Planting of cotton, grain sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers and hay is in full swing. Rangeland and improved pasture are in good to excellent condition. Much of the wheat crop is being baled out or grazed. In general, livestock are doing well.
--In the Rolling Plains, soil moisture is short to adequate. Wheat has been harvested as hay. Feral hogs have been damaging emerging peanuts. Peach and pecan crops are progressing. A large infestation of white-lined sphinx larvae has been observed. Range and pasture conditions were in fair condition.
--In North Texas, soil moisture is adequate to surplus. An armyworm outbreak has been reported. Cotton planting is near completion. Cattle were in good condition. Producers are excited about record peach crop. Lots of oak leaf blister and fungus have been reported. Corn is being side-dressed with fertilizer.
--In East Texas, soil moisture is short to adequate. Some hay baling is under way. Cattle conditions have been good with steady markets. Vegetable gardening has been active with good yields. Peaches are progressing well. Pasture grasses are well but are beginning to need rainfall.
--In Far West Texas, soil moisture is short. Cotton planting is under way. Tomatoes are blooming. Pecans are blooming and setting nuts. Most peaches were lost to frost damage. Apples are progressing nicely. Most cattle are doing well. There have been some reports of noxious plants.
--In West Central Texas, soil moisture is short to adequate. Armyworms and rust have been causing some problems with wheat and sorghum. Cotton field preparation continues. Dryland cotton planting is under way. Peanut planting will begin this weekend. Grain yields have been average.
--In Central Texas, soil moisture is adequate and grazing is very good. Flies are a problem. The peach crop looks good. Armyworm damage is heavy. Livestock are in good to excellent condition.
--In Southeast Texas, soil moisture is adequate. Caterpillars of every kind are causing damage to crops, trees and forages. Corn rootworm and white grubs are a problem in some fields. Producers are starting harvesting of oat seed. Most of the sorghum and soybean crops have been planted. Some wheat fields have been harvested.
--In Southwest Texas, soil moisture is short to adequate. Livestock conditions are good. Wheat and oats have headed, matured and are drying down. Corn, sorghum, cotton, watermelons, cantaloupes, onions and potatoes are making excellent progress. Peanut planting continues.
--In the Coastal Bend, soil moisture is adequate. Row crops look good but need moisture. Corn stands have made excellent growth. The first flood has been completed with rice in good condition. Soybeans are in the beginning bloom state. Farmers' markets are opening.
--In South Texas, soil moisture is short. Corn is in good condition. Insect activity in cotton has been reported. Sugarcane harvest is only days away from concluding for the season. The harvest of spring onion crop continues, as does the harvest of cabbage, carrots and greens.