Bugs thrive and threaten crops

Spider mites can wreak havoc on soybeans
Bugs thrive and threaten crops

If the lack of rain wasn’t enough, farmers now face another issue threatening their crop yield.  The hot, dry weather has made for a perfect environment for a growing number of pests. 

One type in particular – known as a spider mite – thrives in the summer climate, and has been known to wreak havoc on soybean crops.

Independent crop scout AD Cole made a midweek visit to Joe Keller’s farm to check out the fields.  He’s been doing it for more than 50 years and specializes in insect control.  Cole says he’s never seen a season worse than this one.

 “I’ve never seen a buggier year,”  Cole said.

The main culprit of soybean crop damage is the spider mite population.  Cole has seen the critters completely take out potential yields, and that’s a situation Keller can’t afford to be in.

“It’s amazing what a little creature, how much damage they can do, how much harm they can cause,”  Keller explained.

Bugs thrive and threaten crops

The nearly microscopic creatures crawl on the underside of soy leaves and can go undetected for long periods of time before farmers find the damage.  The threat to the plants adds to the stress of the drought, and the hot, dry environment only makes it easier for spider mites to stick around and multiply.

“They can double and triple, just boom, like that and you can have a tremendous population. And that can really do damage,”  Cole said.

UW Madison insect expert Phil Pellitteri hasn’t seen such a bug-ridden summer since the severe drought of 1988.  Insect samples coming into the university lab are up 30 percent from last year.

“Insects are cold-blooded, so the warmer it is, the faster they do everything,”  Pellitteri said,  “Whether it’s breed, fly, run, you name it.”

Pellitteri says along with the number of bugs, there are more new species flying up from the south that he’s never before seen in the state.  He says the overabundance of most bugs and the near non-existence of mosquitoes this summer is very unnatural for Wisconsin.

 “Another way I judge how bad it is is when I start praying for a frost,”  Pellitteri added,  “And I’m there.”

 It’s still fairly early in the season for soybeans and spider mites, so Keller will continue to watch out for the destructive pest.  At this point, rain would be a duel source of relief for his field, providing water for the plants and washing off spider mites trying to take out the crop.

 “Only time will tell.  You can come out here and do a lot of guessing and figuring and Mother Nature will have the final say,”  Keller said.