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New invasive insect pests pose threat to NM crops

Entomologists at New Mexico State University are warning growers of the possibility of finding new invasive

Jane Pierce, NMSU Extension entomologist, warned growers last year to be on the lookout for new, invasive insect pests.(Courtesy of NMSU)

Jane Pierce, NMSU Extension entomologist, warned growers last year to be on the lookout for new, invasive insect pests.(Courtesy of NMSU)

insect pests in New Mexico affecting numerous crops, including alfalfa hay, sorghum, and a number of vegetables and fruits.

“It’s a continual struggle,” said Jane Pierce, NMSU Extension entomologist. “We try to intercept them before they get into the U.S., then before they get into New Mexico, but insects are very good at migrating into new areas. We try to eradicate them when there are isolated pockets, but some insects will get established in New Mexico and we need to learn how to minimize damage.”

New pests can reduce yields, as well as product quality, affecting financial stability and, potentially, jobs.

“Marketing problems can be compounded by the negative responses of other states or countries to the arrival and establishment of a new invasive pest,” said Carol Sutherland, NMSU Extension entomologist and New Mexico Department of Agriculture state entomologist. “While diversification of crops can cushion some of the impacts of a new invasive pest, it may make crops affected by this pest less attractive or useful for crop rotation.”

Alfalfa hay has a $300 million impact in annual revenue, making it New Mexico’s number one crop. Growers are sometimes surprised to find unexplained damage from the white fringed beetle.

The larvae of this beetle, which cause the damage, cannot be treated, but adult populations can be reduced by treating them with an insecticide.

“Growers don’t always recognize the damage because it looks like damage from diseases,” Pierce said. “You need to look for thinning spots, then dig up plants and check the roots to see if there are any holes.”

Spotted winged Drosophila flies are causing significant damage to cane berries in some parts of New Mexico. Specialists in Colorado consider this tiny, red-eyed fly a “game changer” for the fruit industry in that state.

New Mexico’s grape and wine industries should be on the lookout for this fruit destroyer, as well as a very large leafhopper – the glassy-winged sharpshooter – a potential vector of Pierce’s disease that can kill grape vines.

The Bagrada bug, another insect that has caused problems in New Mexico before, was first detected in southern New Mexico in 2010. The next year, populations were present in Luna, Socorro and Valencia counties, followed by Santa Fe in 2012.

This bug is attracted to cruciferous vegetables, canola, potatoes, corn, sorghum, cotton and some legumes. In New Mexico, the Bagrada bug prefers Chinese greens, arugula and mustards, as well as various weeds, including London rocket, wild mustards and pepperweed.

New Mexico sorghum growers should anticipate the arrival of a particularly destructive pest called the sugarcane aphid. This aphid expanded its diet from eating sugarcane to sorghum and, over the past year, moved from south Texas to the Panhandle.

“Last year, it was spotted northwest of Lubbock, Texas. It is not far away and it could be in New Mexico this season,” Pierce said.

Crops are not the only economic issue. European honey bees have been plagued by invasive pests, including honeybee tracheal mites, varroa mites and pathogens they transmit, and, most recently, small hive beetles.

Pierce urges growers to talk to their county agents and take any insects or damaged plants to them to be examined if they see unusual problems.

“With such an extensive list of invasive insects and problems they present, every New Mexican should be aware of our agricultural vulnerability,” Sutherland added. “While high-quality photographs can help document some pest problem or their consequences, the best evidence of a potential pest problem is a good sample of the pests themselves.

Contact your county NMSU Cooperative Extension Service agent for instructions on how to take a sample and submit it for identification.


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