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 19, 2008

Insurance spray for mirids in Bollgard II

With the Festive Season almost here and an irrigation pending, is there value in applying a spray for mirids for peace of mind? This decision to apply an insurance spray needs to be carefully considered because it has the potential to cost much more in the long run.

In order to make this decision, we need to understand the population dynamics of mirids, their damage potential and what is currently happening to the crop.

Where do mirids come from?
Mirids overwinter as adults on wild hosts. In the spring with rising temperature, mirid populations start to build up on alternative hosts around cotton growing areas. Wet winters usually contribute large reserves of alternative hosts which support mirids. Once these hosts hay off and lose their suitability, the mirids can invade seedling or squaring cotton. Mirids sometimes build up in western Queensland, from where they allegedly move on north-westerly winds and invade cotton areas. Mirid adults also continually move into cotton from surrounding hosts and move out of the cotton to alternative hosts throughout the season.

What is happening this year?
Although the past winter was relatively wet, mirid numbers have been very low across the cotton growing areas so far this year. The reason for this phenomenon is not well understood. It could be that alternative hosts are still fresh enough to continue to support mirids, or the severe and prolonged winter may have had a detrimental effect on mirid populations.

Do we need to be worried about square loss at this stage?
If square retention is above 70% and mirid numbers are very low (as is the case for many crops this year), there is no need to be unduly concerned. Squares may be lost for various reasons e.g. insect feeding and physiological reasons.

If mirid numbers are very low and retention is less than 70%, square loss may be due to reasons other than insect feeding and a spray will not help. Square loss at this stage will be compensated fully provided plants do not further suffer from water or nutrient stress or from any other insects.

Figure 1. Compensation for mirid damage at squaring stage

Figure 1 shows plant mapping data in Bollgard® II.

Observation 1 shows the percentage fruit loss for 3 treatments at the squaring stage while observation 2 shows the same 3 treatments at cut out. The treatments consisted of the following:

In treatment 1 (blue) plants were sprayed on a regular basis starting from when 60% of plants had their first flower until cut out. Treatment 2 (red) was not sprayed for mirids at any time during the season. Treatment 3 was sprayed regularly throughout the season to provide total protection against mirids

In observation 1 – the squaring stage – there is a significant difference between treatment 1 (sprayed from squaring) and treatment 3 (sprayed all season) with 18% fruit loss for treatment 1 and 8% loss in treatment 3.

However if we now look at what happened in these treatment at cut out, we find that there is no significant difference between treatment 1 and 3. What this shows is that in this experiment the plants had the ability to make up for the early season fruit loss.

Consequences of unwarranted mirid sprays at this stage
There are several consequences of an insurance spray.
- It is an unnecessary expense.
- Disruption of benefcial communities at this early stage could flare secondary pests such as aphids, mites and whitefly.
- Sprays at this stage, whether high or low rate, will not provide long residual protection. Mirids could move in from alternative hosts at any time, and it is best to save the spray for when it is really warranted.

Article by Dr Moazzem Khan

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thresholds and changing sorghum crop value

Growers and consultants need to revise the thresholds used for important insect pests of grain sorghum such as corn earworm and sorghum midge in light of lower prices currently being offered.

With new crop grain sorghum prices below $200 per tonne, the break even cost of control means that higher pest numbers (density) are needed before control becomes economic, compared to thresholds used last season when grain values were much higher.

The use of a benefit:cost ratio is also an important consideration. The break even point is where the cost of control is equal to the loss caused by the pest. The benefit:cost ratio will vary according to individual preferences, and needs to be factored in to calculations.

Corn earworm
One corn earworm larva is estimated to consume 2.4 g of sorghum during its lifetime. The economic threshold (i.e. the number of larvae/head where the cost of control is equal to the value of the grain saved) can be calculated using the formula:

No. larvae/head = (C x R) ÷ (V x N x 2.4)
C = cost of control ($/ha)
R = row spacing (cm)
V = value of crop ($/tonne)
N = number of heads/metre of row
2.4 = weight of sorghum (grams) lost/larva

The value of crop loss caused by corn earworm larvae in grain sorghum, for a range of larval densities and grain prices and based on 10 heads/metre of row on 1 metre row spacing, are presented below.

When sorghum is valued at $300/tonne, one larva/head could cause $72 crop loss/ha. If the price drops to $150 per tonne, one larva/head causes just $36 crop loss/ha, or 50% less economic damage. This example demonstrates just how important it is to consider each case on its merits, and in particular to consider the cost of control, as it too can vary widely depending on whether aerial or ground spraying is used.

Sorghum midge

As with corn earworm, decisions to spray for midge are greatly influenced by crop value and it is possible to calculate theoretical yield loss estimates for a particular crop scenario (see table). These yield loss estimates are based on extensive field trials by DPI&F that determined the average yield loss/midge/day on different rated midge hybrids. For a susceptible hybrid, one midge is estimated to cause 1.4 g yield loss/day. (Photo: D. Ironside)

Listed below are estimates of midge damage at different grain prices without chemical treatment.
The yield loss estimates in the table assume that spraying results in a 100% kill and that there is no midge damage prior to chemical application. It also assumes that the same average midge pressure persists over 4-5 days. In reality research has shown that one well timed insecticide for midge (put on from panicle emergence and before midge even enter the crop) will still only prevent 70-80% damage protection in lower rated sorghum hybrids. In 8+ rated hybrids, yield losses can be reduced by over 90% with this spray timing.

If the total cost of applying a synthetic pyrethroid by plane is around $20/ha, we can see that at a grain price of $150 per tonne, it is simply not economic to spray mid to high rated hybrids at 1 midge/head and 8+ hybrids at 3 midge/head. It should be emphasised that 8+ is the highest rating that can be assigned to midge resistant hybrids. There are some 8+ lines that would have a considerably higher rating if the scale was extended, and are practically immune to midge damage.

The above information shows the importance of calculating thresholds for the current situation, rather than relying on a fixed value from one year to the next.