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.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Armyworm in wheat

Over the past couple of weeks there have been numerous reports of armyworm in both barley and wheat. The appearance of armyworm in wheat raises a number of questions:
1) Do they behave the same way in wheat as in barley in relation to the type of damage they cause
2) what is their damage potential and is there an economic threshold?
3) What sort of strategy can be used to monitor and manage populations?

For information on armyworm identification see previous Beatsheet postings on armyworms.

There is no reason to expect armyworm to behave differently in wheat to barley. This means you can expect to see feeding on leaves whilst the crop is still green, and then on stems as the crop dries down further.

Characteristic armyworm damage in winter cereals
During the vegetative growth phase, plants can tolerate considerable leaf feeding. Leaves may look tattered from the eaten-out leaf margins. Faecal pellets around the base of plants are another indication of armyworm infestation. Armyworm generally do not require control during the vegetative stage.

Ragged flag and other leaves on a maturing barley crop

The most serious armyworm damage in cereal crops occurs when larvae feed on the upper flag leaf and stem node as the crop matures. Larvae target the stem node as the leaves become dry and unpalatable, and the stem is often the last part of the plant to dry. Head cutting begins at this time.

One large larva can sever up to seven heads of barley a day. One larva a square metre can cause a loss of 70 kg/ha grain per day. A larva takes around 8-10 days to develop through the final, most damaging instars, so the crop is susceptible to maximum damage for this period.

Head cutting in barley caused by armyworm

Calculating an economic threshold
The following table shows the value of yield loss incurred by 1 larva/square m per day, based on approximate current values for wheat and an estimated loss of 70 kg/ha per larva.

Based on these figures, and the relatively low cost of controlling armyworm, populations in ripening crops in excess of 1 large larva per square metre will warrant spraying.

Monitoring and management strategy
For insecticide application to be economic, check or scout the crop and assess the problem before head cutting starts. Check for larvae on the plant and in the soil litter under the plant. Late in the day, when the larvae are becoming active, use a sweep net (or swing a bucket through the crop) to make a quick assessment of whether armyworm larvae are present in the crop. Infestations are often patchy, so check a number of sites across the field.

Some judgements will need to be made about how quickly the larvae will reach damaging size and when this will occur in relation to the crop's development.For example, if the crop is nearing full maturity/harvest, and the grubs are still small, then there is most likely no need to spray. Small larvae take 8-10 days to reach a size capable of head lopping.The other extreme would be a late crop that is still very green and at early seed fill. In this case, any small larvae present will most likely reach their most damaging size in time to significantly reduce crop yield, and so a spray is more likely to be required.

I you are unable to monitor the crop on a regular (daily) schedule during the critical period of drying down, and armyworm are present, it may be better to spray just in case. This is not the preferred option, but provides peace of mind in a year like this where armyworm are abundant.

Early recognition
It is essential to recognise the problem early and be prepared to spray when economic damage is imminent. A cereal crop can be almost destroyed by armyworm in just a few days. Whilst large larvae do the head lopping, controlling smaller larvae that are still leaf feeding may be more achievable.

Many chemicals will control armyworms. However their effectiveness is often dependent on good penetration into the crop to get contact with the caterpillars. Control may be more difficult in high-yielding thick canopy crops, particularly when larvae are resting under leaf litter at the base of plants. As larvae are most active at night, spraying in the afternoon or evening may produce the best results.

If applying sprays close to harvest, be aware of relevant Withholding Periods. Always read the label.

Biological control agents may be important in some years. These include parasitic flies and wasps, predatory beetles and diseases.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Helicoverpa management in chickpea – a refresher

A comprehensive overview of Helicoverpa management in chickpea can be found in the DPI&F brochure Helicoverpa management in chickpea (2007). You can read or download a copy of the brochure at the DPI & F website at Click on the link to Helicoverpa management in chickpea where you will find the brochure.

Key management decisions
The following is an excerpt from the Helicoverpa management in chickpea brochure, and deals specificially with determining whether an infestation of helicoverpa warrants control – based on the economics of potential yield loss vs cost of control.

If control is warranted, which product?
There is a range of products registered for helicoverpa control in chickpea. However, the use of synthetic pyrethroids is really only an option in regions where H. punctigera dominates, or where the population is predominantly made up of larvae smaller than 5 mm in length. The use of SPs against a predominantly H. armigera population is likely to deliver a poor result in terms of control.

NPV (VivusMax) and Bt (e.g. Dipel) are two options which are effective against both species of Helicoverpa. They are most efficacious when deployed to control populations of small larvae (less than 7 mm in length), and lower pressure infestations.

Thiodicarb (Larvin) is another option, particularly where efficacy of this product in the local area is known to be high. Methomyl (Marlin®) could be considered whare large larvae are present close to harvest as it has a 1 day withholding period

Spinosad (Tracer II ™) and indoxacarb (Steward ™) are both effective against both H. armigera and H. punctigera. Remember that Steward has a cut-off for use in chickpea (15 September in CQ, 15 October in warm areas, 30 October in cool areas).

One strategy for the management of mixed age populations of helicoverpa is to use Steward™ first, if prior to cut-off, and then one of the other products if the crop needs to be sprayed again.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What are those grubs in winter cereals?

Grubs in winter cereals are not unusual at this time of year, and already there have been reports of high numbers (up to 20/m2) in Central Queensland wheat (Figure 1). More grubs can be expected in southern districts as the season warms up.

The two most likely larvae (grubs) found in winter cereals are the corn earworm, Helicoverpa armigera, and the common armyworm, Leucania convecta. See previous blog postings for more information on these pests.

Figure 1. Large corn earworm larva on a wheat head. (Photo: R. Lloyd)

All Helicoverpa larvae found feeding in wheat, barley or triticale crops will be corn earworm. The native budworm, H. punctigera, is not normally found on monocots (grasses). This is important to know, because the corn earworm has developed resistance to pyrethroids, and unless the larvae are small, a pyrethroid spray is unlikely to control them.

If large larvae are present, identification becomes a somewhat academic issue. However, large H. armigera larvae can be identified by the white hairs behind the head (Figure 2). In contrast, the hairs on large H. punctigera larvae are black. These compare with armyworm larvae which have three pale stripes just behind the head, and smooth skin, without any hairs or bumps.

Figure 2. White hairs behind the head of corn earworm larva. (Photo: R. Lloyd)

If corn earworm infestations are detected early and larvae are small, preferably less than 7 mm in length, Helicoverpa nucleopolyhedrovirus (NPV) sold as Vivus Max could be considered as it will not harm beneficials (predators and parasites) in the crop. Some caution is needed as NPV will not kill corn earworm larvae greater than 13 mm in length, and will have no effect on armyworms.

Invariably when larvae are found on cereal crops, they are medium or large (>13 mm in length) and a more robust option is needed to control them. Both corn earworm and common armyworm are usually present in winter cereals, and control measures will be influenced by the relative abundance of each.

Follow the link below for more information related to thresholds and control options.