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Early Buzz

Warm winter may bring more pests

March 25, 2012
By?RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

The mild winter that has given many Northern farmers a break from shoveling and a welcome chance to catch up on maintenance could lead to a tough spring as many pests that would normally freeze have not. With relatively mild temperatures and little snow, some insects are that normally experience a sharper drop in numbers are surviving.

Aaron Gabriel, of the Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture team of Cornell Cooperative Extension, said the corn flea beetle is a pest some farmers will want to keep a sharp eye out for this season. The insect tends to carry a bacteria that can be deadly to corn.

"It is important for [farmers] to go out and scout their fields to be sure of what is happening," he said.

Article Photos

Todd Rogers of Rogers Family Orchards in Johnstown prunes an apple tree at his orchard on Wednesday. Rogers, who was able to get an early start on pruning his apple trees, also plans to start spraying for pests earlier than normal.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

According to the website for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?- - warmer than average temperatures dominated the eastern and northern regions of the U.S. in December, January and February. In Albany, for example, the average high in January was 37 degrees, when it's usually less than freezing.

"The winter season was also drier than average for the Lower 48 [states]" the NOAA said.

Gabriel said the warmer weather this winter makes it likely there will be more corn flea beetles, which farmers will want to watch for very carefully through May and into June.

However, the number and type of insects that will be around in the spring and summer will vary greatly depending on the weather, Gabriel said.

As an example, he said, the black cutworm moth - whose larvae eventually can damage some plants - may be in the area in greater numbers this spring.

However, the number of the insects that wind up here will largely depend on the weather patterns down south.

Speaking Tuesday, Gabriel said "It's just the first day of spring, so we'll see what happens. The weather can change a lot."

Crystal?Stewart, a regional vegetable and small-fruit specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery counties, said an invasive species people should keep an eye out for is the brown marmorated stinkbug.

According to the National Invasive Species Information Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture - - the insect, originally from Eastern Asia, was first identified in?Allentown,?Pa., in 1998. Since then, it has been spotted in parts of the Mid-Atlantic, the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, feeding on a variety of plants.

While it would be new to the area, the warmer winter may have allowed the bug to move in numbers to the area, Stewart said.

"We suspect we might see numbers [of the bug] in the district," she said.

Stewart said it will be important people not confuse bugs that are a nuisance but will not damage crops - such as regular stinkbugs and boxelder bugs - with those that pose a danger to crops.

Todd Rogers, owner of Rogers Family?Orchard in the town of Johnstown, said he plans to get an early start on spraying for pests this year.

While he normally starts spraying insect-killer around the roughly 3,000 apple trees at the orchard around April 25, this yearly he will start a couple weeks early.

"Pests are something we spray for every year," at the orchard, Rogers said, which also produces plums and blueberries.

Of course, the warm weather also leads to another concern: that the apple trees may bud early enough for a spring freeze to kill some of the buds.

However, he said, the warm weather definitely has its advantages. Rogers said he was able to start pruning trees - done to keep the trees healthy and in good shape - a couple of weeks early back in November. That will give him the time to go ahead and start spraying for insects earlier.

A Bog's Life

Dawn Allen, who has an 89-year-old, family-run bog in Freetown, Mass., said her family will likely start sweeping bogs with a contraption similar to a butterfly net in April to catch winter moth caterpillars, instead of waiting until mid-May, when they typically start. The winter moth caterpillars are aggressive and eat buds, potentially ruining a crop for a whole year.

"It's a big stress factor that gets us out on the bog early," said Allen, whose farm sells cranberries for juice and pulp converted into cranberry vitamins.

Martha Sylvia, a research technician at the University of Massachusetts cranberry station, said growers should expect to start spraying earlier and more often because there's "definitely an upswing" in winter moths, she said.

"We just know we're in for it," Sylvia said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.



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