Warm Winter Invites Pests

In the wake of one of the mildest winters on record, farmers across the country are reporting higher than usual numbers of agricultural pests.

The 2011-2012 winter has been the mildest winter in recent history, particularly in the North and Northeast. In addition to unusually high temperatures, the region has received lower than average snowfall. Nationwide, average temperatures are several degrees higher. In Albany, New York, the average winter temperature has been 37 degrees, up from normal below freezing temperatures. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the average temperature is up nine degrees, and across the Northeast, temperatures are up five degrees.

While this mildness is a blessing for many farmers who can catch up on needed maintenance, it could also lead to a hard spring.

The problem many farmers face is the high number of agricultural pests. Typically, winter acts as a sort of reset button, freezing many insect species. With the mild weather, however, many pests aren’t freezing, forcing many farmers to remain vigilant lest insects ruing budding crops.

One Massachusetts based family cranberry farm will start sweeping their bogs for moth caterpillars in early April, rather than in late May, when the bugs usually hatch. Left unchecked, the caterpillars could eat buds and destroy an entire season of crops.

Other dangerous pests include the alfalfa weevil, the corn flea, and the bean leaf beetle, which eats soybeans. All of these species live near the surface of the ground and will likely be out much earlier than usual thanks to the warm weather. Researchers are already warning farmers to prepare for early and continual sprayings this season.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer