A minuscule pest few Texas farmers had ever heard of three years ago has quickly gained notoriety as the most important insect pest of grain and forage sorghum in Texas.
The sugarcane aphid has already been reported infesting sorghum in the lower Rio Grande Valley and lower Gulf Coast this year, says Dr. Allen Knutson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist at Dallas. The sugarcane aphid is expected to move into Central Texas and eventually the Texas High Plains, potentially infesting all of Texas’ sorghum-producing regions by late summer.
Keeping track of the devastating pest’s progress may now be a little easier with an online mapping system.
“Grain and forage sorghum producers can now monitor the progression of the sugarcane aphid across Texas via an online mapping program conducted by AgriLife Extension in cooperation with Kansas State University,” Knutson says.
The sugarcane aphid distribution map can be accessed at https://www.myfields.info.
“Growers and consultants can use the map to determine where sugarcane aphids have been found in sorghum fields across the state and anticipate the need to scout fields to determine aphid infestation levels in their area.”
Since it was first discovered feeding on sorghum in 2013, the sugarcane aphid has become an annual pest, infesting both grain and forage sorghums. The tiny insect sucks plant sap, causing leaves to yellow and die, reducing yields, Knutson says. In addition to feeding damage to the crop, the aphids’ sticky excrement called honeydew, may become so heavy that it gums up combines and forage harvesters, rendering them inoperable.
The monitoring system is manned by a network of AgriLife Extension entomologists who report sugarcane aphid presence in sorghum on a county-wide basis from the Rio Grande Valley through the upper Gulf Coast, North and Central Texas, the South Plains and High Plains— essentially all of Texas’ sorghum producing regions.
Once sugarcane aphid is found in a county, the report is posted online through the MyFields.info program developed at Kansas State University. Information from AgriLife Extension on scouting, thresholds, insecticides and integrated pest management practices for sugarcane aphid is also posted on the site.
Danielle Sekula, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management agent in Weslaco, says sugarcane aphid was first reported this year in Texas on March 21 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Dr. Robert Bowling, AgriLife Extension entomologist at Corpus Christi, confirmed that by April 28, the pest had been documented on sorghum in 15 counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Lower Gulf Coast.
“Sugarcane aphids overwinter on Johnsongrass in South and Central Texas, and likely move into planted sorghum in the early summer,” Bowling says. “As their numbers increase in northern Mexico and South Texas in the weeks ahead, I expect to see more winged aphids moving north into the Gulf Coast region.”
How can such a tiny insect cover so many miles so quickly? Knutson says adult aphids with wings develop in the aphid colony as it becomes crowded and food quality declines. Although these winged aphids are weak fliers, it’s believed they are carried by the wind from field to field and over very long distances.
“Sugarcane aphid infestations, especially in Central and West Texas, likely result from long distance dispersal of wind-blown aphids from South Texas,” he says. “By using the sugarcane aphid mapping site, growers and consultants can monitor the movement of sugarcane aphids as they move across the state. The mapping project also supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service program studying the long-distance movement of sugarcane aphid from South Texas to Oklahoma and Kansas.”
Insecticides effectively control of sugarcane aphid, but Bowling says applications must be properly timed before aphid numbers rapidly increase and damage the crop.
“It’s important to remember these aphids can build their populations to extremely large numbers in a very short time, so scout early and don’t delay treatments once infestations reach the crop-damage threshold,” Bowling says. “Using the Sugarcane Aphid Distribution Map is a classic case of forewarned is forearmed.”