SALEM, N.Y. — From record-low milk prices to severe weather problems such as flooding and drought, upstate New York dairy farmers have had plenty of challenges in recent years.

Now they’re urged to be on the lookout for harmful insects and weeds that are new to the region, with potential for causing significant economic damage.

Agronomist Aaron Gabriel, of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program, told how to identify and control such pests during a recent farmer discussion group meeting in Salem, Washington County. More than two dozen people were on hand for the session, the first in a series planned for January.

The soybean cyst nematode, western bean cutworm and pigweeds such as waterhemp and Palmer amaranth, each afflict different crops and arrive by different means.

“The soybean cyst nematode can become a big pest, but it’s fairly easy to manage if we just rotate our crops and keep track of its level in the soil,” Gabriel said.

In eastern New York to date, it’s been found in Columbia and Dutchess counties, which border western Massachusetts and Connecticut, respectively.

The nematode is a tiny round worm, a millimeter or less in size that primarily lives in the soil, so it can infect an area by arriving on soil attached to machinery that’s purchased and brought in from other places.

“They’ve been in the Midwest a little while,” Gabriel said. “Now they’re coming East. A lot of farmers actually buy equipment out in the Midwest. The most important thing you can do is clean equipment before it leaves the place you’re buying it from.”

The western bean cutworm affects crops such as corn and dry beans like kidney beans and pinto beans, not soybeans.

In its adult stage, this insect is a moth so its transport is harder to control. Quite often it’s carried in by storms.

“For the past decade, maybe even longer, it’s been coming in from Nebraska,” Gabriel said. “It’s been coming across the Midwest and now it’s arrived in the East. We’ve had it for several years now. But their populations are building and they’re over-wintering now rather than just flying in.”

“In the next two to four years as those populations continue to get bigger and bigger we’re probably going to have a problem with it,” he said.

Moths emerge from June to August and search for pre-tassel corn leaves to lay eggs on. Larvae feeds on ears of corn.

In 2017, crop damage at one northern New York farm reached 21%.

“Tillage can help because they over-winter in the soil as pupae, but we’re encouraged to do no-till planting, so there’s a conflict,” Gabriel said. “You can also try spraying the plants with insecticide at the late whorl stage or early tassel stage.”

Tall waterhemp and Palmer amaranth, both of which grow to more than 10 feet in height, are the newest types of pigweeds causing problems and mostly impact annual crops such as small grains, corn and soybeans.

They can arrive in a number of ways. For example, they might be attached to combines brought in from out-of-state, or they can come in with imported hay, cottonseed used for dairy rations, or seed mixes.

However, a University of Missouri study found that waterfowl disperse these plant seeds more than 1,700 miles.

Both types of weeds have fast growth rates and are aggressively competitive, which makes them hard to combat.

The first line of defense is proper identification, Gabriel said. Then farmers should take action to prevent new, permanent infestation.

“The weeds are very difficult to control with herbicides and tillage,” Gabriel said. “There’s more herbicides we can use on corn so it’s easier to control them in corn; fewer herbicides we can use in soybean.

Research at the University of Guelph found that even 90% control of these pigweeds is not enough to stop seed spread and that a one pass chemical application program can’t be relied on for season-long control.

Gabriel suggested other control practices such as:

• Rotate crops — corn provides the best opportunity for management.

• Deep tillage, which buries small seed.

• Hand weed small uncontrolled patches to reduce the weed seed bank.

• Clean combines between fields if heavily infested or at least at the end of each season.

• Harvest the worst fields with heaviest infestation last.

A similar discussion group program on the same topic is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. on Tuesdsay, Jan. 14 at the Agroforestry Resource Center in Acra, New York.

There is no admission fee. Register at tinyurl.com/FarmerDiscussionGroups2020, or by contacting Aaron Gabriel (518-380-1496, adg12@cornell.edu) or Dayton Maxwell (518-380-1498, dtm4@cornell.edu).

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