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Farmers putting up a fight against armyworms

Posted at 7:10 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 20:57:22-04

Weeds have been loving this rain, and that's problem enough for farmers. But there's a certain insect that also has been thriving in these conditions, and they're taking a bite out of farmers' revenue.

That troublemaker is the armyworm.

Tracy Tomascik, associate director of Texas Farm Bureau, doesn't speak very kindly about the bugs.

"I'll describe an armyworm as a terrible little insect when it comes to producing grasses and forages on farms and ranches, and even as it relates to turf grass," said Tomascik.

Armyworms are a type of moth larva that have a massive appetite for plants, especially grass. That's a big problem for hay farms like Hungate Farm in Falls County. They've been working to protect their bermuda hay from the pests for much of the summer. We spoke with them about a month ago after a week of rain, and they told us that keeping the pests at bay was an ongoing struggle.

Armyworms can eat through a hay field in 36 hours. With the rainy weather encouraging the insects to multiply, farmers of all types of crops have had to take quick action to save their product.

"Yield can be detrimentally affected," said Tomascik. "And as you might expect, with the name 'armyworm', even though it's a caterpillar, it moves across like an army."

The most common treatment is to apply an insecticide to the field or pasture. To ensure safety, farmers have to hold a certification to use most armyworm killers. It's hard work, but a necessary step to prevent losses. If the bugs were to win the battle, crop shortages would follow. Supply and demand dictates that consumers would feel it in their wallets.

"It's not just the farmers and ranchers that are affected. It's the businesses that feed into the rural economies," said Tomascik.

Grass may be the number one target for armyworms but no crop is safe from the insects. As Tomascik states, if it's a plant, it's food. Livestock farmers and food growers have to mount a counterattack as well. Unfortunately, mitigation strategies cannot fully eliminate a hoard of armyworms. The only thing that can do that is a killing freeze.