Originally created 07/20/98

Hotter weather means pests do more crop damage

If it's not the drought, it's the plague.

A summer sun that has seared local farmers' fields also has caused growers more problems with certain crop pests, some agricultural experts said.

"We've had earlier problems, for sure, and probably a little worse," said Richard McDaniel, Burke County Extension Agent for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. "We typically don't spray cotton for worms in June, and we had fields that were sprayed three times in June."

Droughts often exacerbate pest problems because the heat speeds up certain pests' reproductive cycles, said Ray Noblet, head of the university's department of entomology -- the study of insects.

The heat also can cause some pests to turn out in greater numbers, Mr. Noblet said.

Heat can reduce the reproductive cycles of pests such as the cotton boll worm and tobacco bud worm from about two weeks to seven to 10 days, Mr. Noblet said.

Other pests that enjoy droughts include spider mites, which munch on the leaves of several plants, and the lesser cornstalk borer, which tunnels into the stalks of crops, some entomologists said.

"It's going to be a real problem for the farmers this year," he said. "We're going to have some severe losses this year, and insects are one component of that."

Those losses caused the federal government Wednesday to declare 155 of Georgia's 159 counties agricultural disaster areas. The corn crop already is lost, and much of the cotton, soybean and peanut crops also are in danger, Mr. McDaniel said.

In South Carolina, crop losses have mounted enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to visit the state today.

Being faced with such losses makes it tougher for farmers to decide whether to treat for the pest infestations, said Jay Chapin, an entomologist with Clemson University's Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville, S.C.

Farmers must decide whether to use expensive pesticides on their struggling crops, he said.

More frequent pesticide use lowers farmers' profits and might increase losses if crops die. Further complicating matters, the drought hurts many beneficial critters, such as ladybugs and spiders, that eat crop pests, Mr. Chapin said.

Rural pests aren't the only ones to cause problems during dry times. Some suburban bugs also can make humans' lives miserable, some exterminators said.

"Insects, like humans, tend to want to find places that are more comfortable," said Susan Kirkpatrick, public relations director for Orkin Exterminating Company Inc. in Atlanta. "While there might not be more of them, you may tend to see them more often in your home, because they're looking for a place to get out of the heat."

Common culprits include cockroaches, including the flying varieties, said Pat VanHooser, manager of Advanced Services for Pest Control Inc.

"German cockroaches are year-round pests because they live indoors," Ms. VanHooser said. "The smokey brown roach and the American cockroach are the ones you see migrating indoors."

The drought, however, may have had one beneficial, albeit temporary, effect. It might have delayed the arrival of one of the South's most industrious, pesky and painful pests -- the fire ant.

"We had such a mild winter and wet spring, it looked like the fire ants were going to be a huge problem," Ms. VanHooser said. "But because it has been so hot, they've had to go deeper into the ground because they can't tolerate the heat. We have them to look forward to at the end of August and the beginning of September."


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