Twitter the newest weapon in the war against crop pests

An innovative farm tool uses Twitter to give producers breaking bug news and tips, as well as allowing them to ask questions and provide insect updates from their areas

Watch out for cabbage seed pod weevil if you farm south of the Trans-Canada, and producers in the western and southern-central parts of the province should be on the lookout because bertha army worms may be marching in your direction.

Those were two of the take-aways from the first 2014 #ABbugchat — the Twitter hashtag of an innovative farm tool created by insect management specialists Scott Meers and Shelley Barkley, who work in Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Brooks office.

Using the social media network not only allows the duo to present the latest news on pest infestations and treatments, but also gives Twitter users the chance to ask questions, provide insect updates from their farms, share photos, and discuss management options.

The event is held every Wednesday at 10 a.m. during the growing season (typically from the start of May to the end of August), but Meers and Barkley held a session in mid-January to highlight the release of the 2014 forecasts maps for eight common pests. (The maps are available at www.agric.gov.ab.ca — type ‘insect maps’ in the search box and click on the link titled ‘Alberta Insect Pest Monitoring Network.’) They followed up with ‘interactive’ sessions at FarmTech, mixing a traditional presentation with live tweeting.

The map for cabbage seed pod weevil (CSPW) caught the interest of several participants in the mid-January session. The bug, which dines on canola and mustard, arrived in the province in 1995, but so far has defied expectations by sticking close to chinook country.

“How far north could this come?” asked a producer and agronomist from central Alberta.

“CSPW modelling shows it should really like central Alberta, but so far it really has not established itself there,” replied Meers.

He also noted that although pea leaf weevil damage in the south was lower last year, there could be a flare-up this year. Along with producers south of the Trans-Canada, farmers in Wheatland, Newell and Cypress counties are being warned to be on the lookout.

Big bad bertha also attracted a lot of attention.

“BAW (bertha army worm) outbreak is over in the Minburn, Two Hills area I think, but may have moved to western and southern-central Alta.,” tweeted Meers.

More from the Alberta Farmer Express website: Alberta insect forecast for 2014

Attendees at the FarmTech sessions wanted to know how many checks in a field are needed when scouting bertha. The literature recommends 10 checks per field, with three being the absolute minimum, replied Meers.

Twitter followers were given a link to his how-to video for scouting for bertha army worms (go to www.youtube.com and search for ‘meers bertha’). The high-definition video, shot last year, details Meers’ scouting method, which involves a vigorous shaking of plants and then giving the worms a couple of minutes to become active and show themselves.

The provincial Agriculture Department organized an extensive bertha army worm monitoring program in 2013, which saw a network of pheromone-baited traps placed in 285 locations across the province. The traps yielded high to very high moth catches across central Alberta, but many farmers didn’t have to spray because there were low numbers of worms, or their population collapsed because of viral and fungal disease.

There were also high counts in traps located in southern Alberta last year and that may indicate a population buildup, Meers tweeted.

The province provides bertha traps for free and is always looking for more farmers to widen its monitoring network. Info on obtaining the traps (along with a video on how to assemble one) will be available in March on the web page of the 2014 bertha army worm forecast map, or by phoning 310-FARM or emailing [email protected]

Grasshoppers also made the ‘keep a close watch’ list. Meers noted warm fall weather would have both increased the number of eggs laid and their development. Heavy rainfall early in the season will reduce those numbers if it occurs when the newly hatched nymphs are in their first instar (or growth stage).

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