Bugs attack Idaho grain crops

By DAVE WILKINS Capital Press Staff Writer


Southern Idaho farmers are seeing more insect damage to crops earlier in the season than they have in years.

Small grains have been among those crops hardest hit. The damage has occurred in both irrigated and dryland fields.

In spring-planted barley fields in southeastern Idaho, growers are not only battling cereal leaf beetles as they have the past several years, but they’re seeing significant infestations of wheat mites and grass mites for the first time.

“The wheat mites are so thick I can’t count that high,” said Randy Neiwirth, a field man with Great Western Malting Co. in Blackfoot. “We’re seeing them just take whole patches out of fields.”

Some fields have been hit with a quadruple whammy: Mites, grasshoppers, Russian wheat aphids and cereal leaf beetles. In many cases it appears that the pests are migrating onto farmers’ fields from nearby public rangelands or lands set aside in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Growers are keeping a close eye out, treating the most severely infested fields with insecticides.

Evan Hayes, who grows barley in Caribou County in southeastern Idaho, said he’s seen some fields so ravaged that they’re in need of replanting.

“We’ve got virtually every pest known to man this year,” Hayes said in a telephone interview this week. “Here in my county, it’s kind of ugly.”

Hayes said he’s never had a problem with Russian wheat aphids in the springtime until this year.

Insecticide treatments can cost up to $10 per acre. That, on top of higher fuel and fertilizer costs incurred by farmers this year, “is a shot we didn’t need,” he said.

“Hopefully, if you use a chemical with a systemic effect you can get four weeks of protection and by then the plant would be strong enough to ward off the bugs,” Hayes said.

Farmers in south-central Idaho are also having bigger bug problems this year.

“We’ve seen more insect pressure from the get-go this year than we’ve seen in several years,” said Paul Krumm, an agronomist for Coors barley in the Burley area.

“Usually, when you have a mild winter like we had this last winter you can just about bank on having more insect pressure,” he said.

The first pest that malting barley growers in the Burley area had to treat for this year was cutworms, and then they had an earlier than average outbreak of cereal leaf beetle, Krumm said.

Russian wheat aphids have actually been less of a problem in the Burley area than in the past, but growers are bracing for an outbreak of grasshoppers.

“The worst may be yet to come with these grasshoppers,” Krumm said.

“As they grow in number and size they become a much bigger threat,” Krumm explained. “We’re not out of the woods with these insects yet.”


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