Along with drought, Alabama farmers are now battling the onward march of fall armyworms. Farmers are encouraged to scout crops and hayfields for the caterpillars and report sightings to a local Alabama Cooperative Extension System office.
The crawling creatures were officially reported in 14 counties in July, and were found in nine other counties earlier this summer. Affected counties include Blount, Butler, Calhoun, Clarke, Cullman, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marshall, Mobile, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Talladega and Tuscaloosa. Another report showed fall armyworms had crept into Lamar County.
Calhoun County farmer Adam Wilson discovered fall armyworms in his fields as he mowed this week.
"The armyworms we found were in or near the final stages of the larvae cycle, which is the timeframe they can do the most damage," Wilson said. "These caterpillars can become detrimental to many types of forages."
According to ACES, fall armyworms feed on a variety of crops, but they especially enjoy feasting on Bermuda grass, which is grown in hayfields and pastures for livestock. The caterpillars can quickly invade an area and defoliate crops or hayfields.
The drought has already hurt Alabama pastures. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rated 24 percent of the state’s hayfields as poor or very poor as of July 17.
However, for Lamar County dairy farmer Will Gilmer, the hungry caterpillars have done more damage than the lack of rain.
"Because of the two-month drought, we’ll only have about 40 percent of our normal corn silage yield this year, but, in one night, armyworms stripped 75-80 percent of our sorghum crop," Gilmer said. "You can’t beat farming in the good times, but then there’s also awful years when prices are low, expenses are high and Mother Nature delivers blow after blow. All you can do is remember that people are depending on you for their food and there will be better days ahead."
To scout for armyworms, ACES suggests using a sweep net on fields during early morning and late afternoon. Best practices for control are frequent mowing and insecticides.
To report fall armyworms and get advice on treatment, ask for the animal science and forages regional agent at a local ACES office, or contact Dr. Kathy Flanders at 334-844-6393. For more information on fall armyworms, see www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1019/ANR-1019.pdf.