Sugarcane Aphid: Research and Management Updates

The sugarcane aphid has proven a formidable opponent to sorghum growers since 2013. However, the sorghum industry has taken great strides forward in combating this pest through strategic research endeavors.

The Sorghum Checkoff invested $350,000 in a collaborative project with Dow AgroSciences in 2015, funding 23 scientists from 12 states geared toward enhancing best management practices against the sugarcane aphid. The results of the 2015 effort provided much needed management information for growers and aided in the development of the Sorghum Checkoff sugarcane aphid management guide. Since then, new management tools such as tolerant hybrids have begun to make their way to farmers’ fields.

$300,000 Investment

The Sorghum Checkoff has made further investments into understanding the sugarcane aphid by collaborating with Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience in 2016 on a national endeavor geared toward addressing scientific and educational needs for controlling the sugarcane aphid in U.S. sorghum production.

“The sugarcane aphid is one of the most significant pests to affect sorghum in recent history,” said Justin Weinheimer, Sorghum Checkoff crop improvement director. “The Sorghum Checkoff board of directors invested approximately $300,000 in sugarcane aphid research again this year to ensure farmers have the tools they need to combat this pest.”

This multistate effort focuses on the following objectives:

Determine optimal spray threshold for sugarcane aphids at different sorghum growth stages on both susceptible and tolerant hybrids

Determine optimal spray threshold at different growth stages

Manage sugarcane aphids at harvest

Effectively manage sugarcane aphids in the presence of other pests

Evaluate reduced rates and tank mixes of Transform WG and Sivanto Prime on sugarcane aphid efficacy

Determine efficacy and residual activity of seed treatments on sugarcane aphids

Demonstrate an integrated pest management approach to sugarcane aphid control

To accomplish these goals, leading scientific and entomology cooperators within 11 states have partnered with the Sorghum Checkoff, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience to answer a series of key questions and provide solutions during a yearlong timeframe.

Partnering institutions for this research include Auburn University College of Agriculture, Clemson University/Pee Dee REC, Kansas State University, Kansas State University/Southwest Research and Extension Center, Louisiana State University Ag Center, Mississippi State University, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the University of Arkansas Northeast Research and Extension Center, the University of Arkansas Southeast Research and Extension Center, the University of Georgia, the University of Missouri and West Tennessee Research and Education Center.

Managing the Pest

This growing season, sugarcane aphid pressure has been low to moderate in most areas, further reinforcing the fact that the best management practices of using seed treatments, planting early, using tolerant hybrids when it makes sense and timely spraying can make a significant difference.

In South Texas, some producers treated sorghum crops with insecticide, and treatments by growers and consultants succeeded once infestation levels reached the threshold. Yields have been good to excellent in sorghum harvested thus far.

In early July, entomologists in the Delta, Mid-South and Mid-Atlantic regions reported populations of sugarcane aphids with the potential to grow quickly in hot, dry conditions. Producers applied some insecticide treatments in these regions. Proper scouting and timely management are as important as ever, as they can minimize the harmful effects of the sugarcane aphid and preserve large numbers of beneficials.

“We learned a lot about how to control the aphid last year as a result of the research conducted, so if we end up with a sugarcane aphid issue in 2016, we are better prepared to control the pest and prevent yield loss,” said Brent Bean, Sorghum Checkoff agronomist.

To stay ahead of the aphid, agronomists recommend scouting sorghum fields at least once a week for signs of the aphid. Sugarcane aphids excrete honeydew, a sticky, shiny substance on the lower leaves, often the first sign of a sugarcane aphid infestation. If producers find aphids, they should scout fields 2-3 times a week to ensure treatments are timely.

Once the infestation reaches the threshold level, it is critical that insecticide application occurs as soon as possible to avoid a potential yield loss. Applications targeting lower infestation levels are likely to be more effective and prevent an escalating population of aphids that will be much more difficult to control.

“Successful control of sugarcane aphids is dependent on timely application as soon as the threshold level is reached,” Bean said. “Although thresholds differ a little in different regions around the country, it is generally recommended that treatment should take place when at least 50 aphids are present on 25-30 percent of the plants. As with all other crop pest crises, the sugarcane aphid will be effectively dealt with by using sound integrated pest management practices.”

For more information regarding the sugarcane aphid, click here.