Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Agriculture agents watch worm

Pest infests some areas, not others

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        BURLINGTON — A Northern Kentucky agriculture agent said Monday that a worm which attacks grasses and grains and has infested pastures in western Kentucky is not marching north.

        Jerry Brown, a University of Kentucky agent at the Boone County extension office in Burlington, said the army worm, which has caused extensive damage west of a line between Breckinridge and Monroe counties in western Kentucky, doesn't usually come north.

        “They've been spotted in central and western Kentucky,” Mr. Brown said.

        “We have no reports of any yet in the northern counties.”

        Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Billy Ray Smith has asked federal officials to approve expanded pesticide use, officials said Monday.

        The worm occasionally causes catastrophic losses. So far, it has wrought more damage to pasture land than to grains, according to the department.

        “What we've seen is that most of the damage is already done,” said Ira Linville, the department's director of environmental services.

        The army worm is an early season pest that typically has three or four generations per season.

        Mr. Linville said its first spring larval stage — which lasts three to four weeks and is considered the most destructive stage — is nearing an end.

        Mr. Linville said he did not hear of any problems until last week.

        He said that may be because farmers waited to see if problems were caused by drought or army worms.

        Mr. Smith said pesticide spraying by wheat farmers earlier this year may have forced the worms into the pasture and hay fields.

        Mr. Linville said the current infestation likely started in Tennessee and also spread to parts of Illinois and Indiana.

        Mr. Brown said army worm larvae are greenish-browm with a thin black stripe down the center of the back and two orange stripes on either side. They grow to about 1.5 inches long before they ultimately become moths.

        The state agriculture department is trying to monitor moth flights of the next generation and wants to use pesticides to limit further growth, Mr. Linville said.

        The state is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow farmers to use insecticides that would be effective against the worm but are not usually permitted for use on pasture because their residue lingers, Mr. Linville said.

        He said he could not yet disclose them.

        There already are pesticides approved for pasture, but not in great amounts, and two of the best-known — sevin and malathion — have potential drawbacks, Mr. Linville said.

        “They're broad-spectrum pesticides. They wipe out the bees and everything else — the beneficial insects.” Mr. Brown said vegetation the army worms damaged would come back.

        The Associated Press contributed.


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