MSU, Extension team with wheat growers to combat new pest
Montana State University Montana State University and wheat growers across the state are working together to protect the state’s billion-dollar wheat industry from a tiny orange midge capable of inflicting major damage to the crop.
The adult orange blossom wheat midge superficially resembles a small, orange mosquito and lays its eggs on the maturing head of spring and durum wheat. After hatching, large numbers of midge larvae feed on the developing wheat kernels causing yields to plummet from 80-90 bushels per acre to as little as two.
Bob Stougaard, superintendent of MSU’s Northwestern Agricultural Research Center in Kalispell and professor of weed science, said the first economically devastating appearance of the orange wheat blossom midge in Montana occurred in Flathead County in 2006.
“We estimated that our losses in 2006 were at least $1.5 million,” Stougaard said. “That kind of number really gets your attention. We’ve been working on addressing this problem ever since.”
The orange wheat blossom midge is an invader from Eurasia that has plagued certain areas of the upper Great Plains and much of Canada wheat country. While it is known in the Western Hemisphere as a pest of spring wheat and durum, in Europe and Asia it attacks winter wheat.
Although the Flathead Valley was the first area in Montana to suffer severe economic losses due to this pest, the wheat midge has since made its growing presence felt in other areas of the state, putting wheat growers on alert across Montana, Stougaard said.
Experts with MSU Extension, MSU’s Montana Agricultural Experiment Station and the MSU College of Agriculture have worked with wheat producers to create a state-wide, early-warning detection system to monitor the midge’s spread; are sharing information about strategies to combat the midge through the well-timed application of pesticides and use of biocontrols; and have developed a new wheat variety that is genetically resistant to the midge and which should be available for planting for the 2016 season.
The early-warning detection system involves trapping the midges and counting their numbers. Six Montana Agricultural Research Centers and 26 MSU Extension offices have worked with growers and crop consultants to place hundreds of traps across the state. The cooperative effort, known as the Orange Wheat Blossom Midge Monitoring Project, helped spearhead development of an online information sharing system – MSU Pest Management Network – where findings are mapped and quantified so that grain growers throughout the state can see if midge populations are present in their area and if the numbers warrant action.
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