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Another hangover from last year’s dismal weather

Pea leaf weevil have been spreading north and last summer’s wet conditions will give them a boost this year

Research shows that treating pea seed with a systemic insecticide product is the most effective control measure to prevent pea leaf weevil damage.

Alberta provincial crop specialist Neil Whatley.

Legume crops such as field peas and fababeans produce most of the nitrogen they need, but pea leaf weevils “greatly compromise” that process, said provincial crop specialist Neil Whatley.

The pest showed up in southern Alberta in 1997 and initially stayed south of the Trans-Canada Highway. But over the last few years, it has moved into central Alberta and as far north as Sturgeon County, north of Edmonton, with lower levels of feeding reported in east-central Alberta.

“There’s a high risk of infestation in the same areas if winter and spring conditions are favourable,” said Whatley. “A potential predictor of population increase is precipitation in August. As many areas with high weevil populations in 2016 experienced August precipitation, pea and fababean producers in these areas are advised to plan control strategies for the 2017 crop year.”

After spending the winter as an adult beetle in perennial legumes, adults are attracted to annual and perennial legume crops in spring, including field pea, fababean, lentil, alfalfa, and bean.

“However, egg laying only takes place in soil near field pea or fababean seedlings, so root nodules of lentil and alfalfa, for example, are not affected,” he said. “Just prior to egg laying, adult pea leaf weevil insects feed on the margins of seedling leaves resulting in a notched or scalloped leaf appearance, which is not expected to reduce yield. After hatching from eggs, the worm-like larvae proceed downward into the soil where they primarily feed on root nodules resulting in decreased nitrogen fixation by pea and fababean plants.”

Spring weather conditions can alter the timing and severity of damage.

“Weevils arrive early to pea and fababean fields if warm temperatures above 20 C persist for more than a few days in late April or early May, potentially corresponding with higher yield losses. Alternatively, if cool weather occurs during the same period, yield is generally not as compromised especially when the crop advances past the sixth node stage before the weevils arrive.

“In either case, field scouting is required to make control decisions on a field-by-field basis. It’s also advised not to seed into cold soil.”

Yield losses may occur when more than 30 per cent of seedlings (three out of 10 plants along a seed row) show feeding damage on the clam leaf (the most recently emerged leaf) before the sixth node stage in peas. When scouting, assess groups of 10 plants in multiple rows.

“Most research hasn’t shown that control of weevils using foliar insecticide prevents yield loss,” said Whatley. “The ineffectiveness of foliar spraying probably arises because weevils have already laid enough eggs to significantly damage root nodules when sprays are applied or because healthy weevils immigrate after spraying.

“According to research on the Prairies, nodule protection is more effective when pea seed is treated with a systemic insecticide product prior to seeding. Fababean may be similarly protected, but this requires investigation.”

If feeding damage is only apparent on the older, lower leaves and not on the newer clam leaf, the weevil has probably already laid eggs and spraying would be of no value.

“As such, producers should scout for damage on the clam leaf and not on lower leaves,” said Whatley. “Since pea leaf weevils migrate into field pea and fababean fields, foliar damage is initially observed along field edges.

“Foliar insecticides applied early in an infestation to field edges may be a sound economic decision. However, additional on-farm research will provide more clarity. Limited spraying would also reduce the risk of affecting beneficial species, such as ground beetles, that may help manage pea leaf weevil populations via predation.”

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