Armyworm invasion

Published 8:13 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Armyworms have invaded the Wiregrass Substation in Headland and that’s cause for concern among area producers who have hayfields.

William Birdsong, extension specialist – agronomic crops, said armyworms have been discovered in a hay field at the research center but, at this time, no other army worms have been reported but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

“We are trying to get the word out for producers to check their hayfields,” Birdsong said. “If unchecked and unnoticed, armyworms can devour the forage in a matter of just a few days. Armyworms seem to prefer Bermuda grass hayfields. The moths invade the fields and lay eggs. When the eggs reach the larvae stage, they start to grow and eat and cycle out.”

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Birdsong said the larvae feed at night on grass blades and hide in silk-lined tunnels or burrows during the day.

“Not only do armyworms devour the folage, they sometimes eat the stems,” he said.

“Armyworms can be devastating to hay fields. If a producer is not watchful, they might go to cut a hayfield and find that there’s nothing to cut. The hay has already been harvested by armyworms.

“The number of armyworms is huge – thousands upon thousands – and they can consume an entire hayfied in a few days. That’s why it’s so important for producers to scout their hayfields.”

Farmers don’t normally have reason to scout a hayfield during this busy time of year.

“A producer who cut a hayfield a week or so ago, probably wouldn’t go back to the field until he was ready to cut it again,” Birdsong said. “There would be no reason for him to. But in that length of time, his hayfield could be infested or gone.”

The producer would have lost a cutting of hay and that’s not what any producer wants.

“When armyworms are found early, insecticides can be applied that will kill and control armyworms and prevent forage loss,” Birdsong said.

“So, it’s important to scout the field and find the armyworms before they do major damage. They work fast, so fast that you can actually see a slow wave of forage being consumed.”

Typically, mid- to late-summer conditions are such that there is the potential for armyworm outbreaks.

“That’s what we want to prevent,” Birdsong said. “Just because we’ve discovered armyworms at the research center in Headland doesn’t mean that the infestation is widespread. But it does mean that producers need to be aware of the potential and scout their hayfields. Not doing so could mean devastation of the hayfields.”