The Beat Sheet

The Beat Sheet is a blog about insect pest management issues relevant to Australia's northern grain region of Queensland and northern New South Wales. This team blog is updated by entomology staff from Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries. Their contribution is supported by funding from the grains and cotton industries.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rutherglen Bug in sorghum

Rutherglen bug infestations of grain sorghum
This season we are seeing large infestations of Rutherglen bug (Nysius vinitor) (RGB) in sorghum crops from Central Queensland to the Downs, and further south. The large infestations are most likely a result of storm activity and the growth of weed hosts on which they breed up. RGB are very mobile, with large numbers of bugs appearing in (or disappearing from) crops before or after storms. There doesn’t seem to be particular stage of crop development at which RGB start to infest sorghum. The timing of infestation is determined by storm activity, or by hot dry weather that causes weed hosts to dry off, forcing bugs into nearby crop.

What we are seeing in the field this season
Where RGB are active, early sorghum crops, or early heads in a crop, are most affected. Damaged grain is red where bugs have fed on the portion of the seed not covered by the glumes. Dark spots are also visible on the grain. Grain is small and shrivelled, and has not continued to fill beyond the point at which it was damage. Cutting open the damaged grains, there is fungal and bacterial infection of the seed, making it black and mushy. This grain will not continue to fill, and is likely to be lost at harvest.

Sampling for RGB
Because RGB populations can start to build up at any stage of crop maturity, and our data show that RGB can significantly impact on seed set during flowering and early seed development, monitoring for RGB should start at mid flowering. Practically, RGB can be sampled for along with Helicoverpa; beating individual heads into a bucket. The distribution of RGB is typically patch across the field. A few heads with high numbers, lots of heads with lower numbers. This means that more, rather than fewer, heads need to be sampled to get an idea of the overall level of infestation in a field.

RGB and their damage potential
….. in sunflower
There has been little research on RGB in any crops other than sunflower. In sunflower they are known to be a major pest, feeding on the seed as it sets and matures, resulting in reduced yields and oil quality.
…….in sorghum
In the USA there is a related species, the false chinch bug (Nysius raphanus), which causes yield loss and reduced seed viability in sorghum. Yield loss is caused not only by the direct feeding of the bugs, but also through allowing a fungus to infect the seed through the feeding wounds, causing further deterioration and discolouration of the grain. Threshold trials showed that chinch bug caused a reduction in seed set when present on grain from flowering through soft dough stages. Where seed set was reduced, overall grain weight increased. In other words, the plant compensated with fewer, heavier grain in damaged heads.

DPI&F research on RGB in sorghum - what we know

RGB feeding post flowering will reduce grain set
Preliminary research on RGB has been done in sorghum and has shown that adult RGB will reduce seed set by around 20% at densities of 50-100 bugs/head. If bugs infest after grain is set, adult RGB will feed on the seed. Affected seed looks spotty and red externally (see photo), and hollowed out internally. Fungal infection also occurs resulting in further deterioration of the developing grain and ultimately seed that is small, shrivelled and light – and likely to be lost at harvest.

Early instar nymphs do not damage grain
No evidence of grain feeding was found for first, second and third instar nymphs. Older nymphs did feed on developing grain as do adults.

There are no soft-options for RGB control
Fipronil, indoxacarb and dimethoate were compared with alphacypermethrin in a replicated field trial on the Downs. None of the products provided control of nymphs statistically equivalent to the commercial comparison, alpha-cypermethrin. Compared to the unsprayed, alpha-cypermethrin was highly disruptive to predatory invertebrates.

What we don’t know

Can RGB damage grain from hard dough through to harvest?
The data for the impact of RGB on maturing sorghum does not provide a clear picture of whether grain continues to be damaged. We know that large populations of nymphs can be present in crops right up to harvest, but whether they are feeding on the plant, or on the grain are unknown.

RGB economic threshold for sorghum
Further work is needed to determine the density-damage relationship. This includes work to understand compensation when seed set is reduced early, the direct damage to grain during filling and maturation, and potentially indirect damage caused by RGB feeding on the sorghum plant which may impact on grain fill.

Soft options for RGB
Biopesticides, in this case the fungal disease Metarhizium is an option for RGB. It is currently being evaluated by DPI&F, and if effective will be an important addition to sorghum IPM.

Based on what we know, the following strategies can be suggested for minimising RGB damage to sorghum:

Start checking for RGB from flowering
Developing and filling seed are susceptible to damage from RGB adults, so protect the crop during these stages.

A threshold of 20-50 bugs/head is suggested. Treating populations of adults does not guarantee there will not be further infestation. RGB can reinfest a field overnight if the conditions are right.

RGB will breed in sorghum, so infestations of adults will result in increasing numbers of nymphs. Large populations of RGB can cause problems with machinery at harvest. Continue to monitor populations through to harvest as a decision to treat will need to take into account withholding periods for harvest.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Getting the most from NPV sprays on grain sorghum

Some issues have recently been raised on the Darling Downs regarding the use of Helicoverpa nucleopolyhedrovirus (NPV) against corn earworm on grain sorghum. These issues involve the delay in time to kill and the level of control not necessarily meeting growers’ expectations.

Seasonal conditions
The last couple of weeks on the Downs have been cooler than normal. The average daily screen temperature for Dalby for the week ending 11 December was 25.5°C, while for the week ending 4 December it was just 22°C. Daily minimums were as low as 14°C. These lower temperatures will influence the time to death of NPV-infected caterpillars.

Temperature affects the development rates of caterpillars, their feeding, and the rate at which they die from NPV once they are infected. The lower the temperature, the slower caterpillars develop and the longer it takes for NPV-infected caterpillars to firstly stop feeding, and then to die.

Studies by Chris Monsour (formerly DPI&F) investigated these relationships. At 30°C, an NPV-infected 6-day old caterpillar (late second instar) will feed normally for 2 days before feeding is greatly reduced. At 20°C, caterpillars feed normally for 5 days before feeding is reduced. Importantly, the total amount of food consumed by these NPV-infected caterpillars is similar, whether at 30°C or 20°C (see Figure). Also remember that most caterpillars feed on anthers until late fourth instar (21 mm in length) and this feeding will not affect yield.

Time to death from NPV

At 30°C, it takes on average 4.5 days after infection for a 6-day old caterpillar to die from NPV. This compares with 6.2 days at 25°C and 7.5 days at 20°C. Under recent field conditions, many larvae are taking more than 8 days to die from NPV after spray application.

Figure. Consumption of artificial diet by healthy and NPV-infected 6-day old caterpillars and time to death from NPV at three temperatures (Data from Chris Monsour).

High grub infestations
If we accept that NPV will kill 90% of caterpillars, a starting infestation of 10 caterpillars per head results in 1 caterpillar per head surviving. This would not normally be an issue, but with the current high value of grain sorghum, this number of survivors may be above the economic threshold. You need to ask, is any other product going to do a better job? The answer is ‘No’.

Beneficial safety
NPV is safe on beneficials (parasites and predators) and these are important in helping mop up any survivors, as well as ensuring aphids are not flared. The end result is generally better than a 90% job.

What do we need to do to make sure of good results with NPV?

Consider applying NPV sprays earlier i.e. before 50% brown anthers, particularly if the spread of flowering is large. In this way most early flowering heads will be fully protected and secondary infection will control most caterpillars on the late flowering heads. It is best to target caterpillars less than 7 mm in length when using NPV, and this is the size of caterpillars on heads that have just finished flowering.

Water quality
Water used in spray mixes should have a pH of 7. Alkaline water will seriously reduce the performance of NPV, so buffer water with Li700 or equivalent to neutralise pH.

Water volumes
For high-volume, water-based sprays, a minimum of 30 L water/ha is recommended for aerial application, and 100 L water/ha for ground rig application.

NPV must be ingested to be effective, so the challenge is to achieve good coverage of the target. This means paying particular attention to water volumes, nozzles, operating pressure, weather conditions, etc. You want to spread NPV over as much of the head as possible to ensure caterpillars have a high chance of picking up a lethal dose as they feed on the head.

NPV historically performs very well on grain sorghum, usually achieving greater than 90% control when used alone. For this reason, additives such as AminoFeed, etc. are not recommended when NPV is applied to grain sorghum.

However, for all crops other than sorghum, the use of a molasses-based additive containing the reducing sugars glucose and fructose (such as AminoFeed) is recommended when applying NPV.