New Pests on the Block: Sugarcane Aphids Cause Southern Sorghum Growers Grief

realistic 3d render of bedbugSurprisingly, bed bugs continue to be the most difficult kind of pest infestation to treat, according to 76% of survey respondents, beating out other pest heavy-hitters such as termites, cockroaches, and ants. But what about sugarcane aphids?

First, what are sugarcane aphids?

Aphids, commonly referred to as plant lice, are small insects that feed on vegetation in large colonies or groups. They are considered among the most destructive insect pests, and Southern sugarcane aphids — which feed on sugarcane and sorghum grass — are no exception. For a relatively new pest to the Alabama region, sugarcane aphids have made quite the first impression with Southern sorghum grass farmers.

“It caught growers’ attention pretty quickly,” explains Scott Stewart, University of Tennessee Extension entomologist. “It first showed up in Tennessee this past August, but it was obvious that it had been present in some areas of the state prior to that time.”

While sugarcane aphids have been in Louisiana for almost 12 years, they hadn’t damaged sorghum grass crops to this new, severe extent. Stewart, as with many other researchers studying the infestation, believe this is due to either a host jump from sugarcane to sorghum grass or an entirely new biotype of sugarcane aphids that has somehow been introduced.
In early August of last year, sugarcane aphids began migrating from other southern states into Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and even Florida.

To make matters worse, treating a sugarcane aphid infestation can be tricky. “Not everything kills this insect, and some things make it worse. Our data has shown that depending on the aphid growth phase and the stage of the sorghum, some treatments look good some of the time, but they may not look good at other times. The ones that have been most consistent have been Transform WG, Admire Pro, and Centric,” says Stewart.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Section 18 emergency use exemptions in Mississippi and Louisiana for the use of Transform WG insecticide in order to control sugarcane aphid infestations in sorghum grass last month. However, Section 18 approvals for Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas were granted in January of this year.

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