peanut-dryland-field-june-2015-burrower-bug

Unravelling the mysteries of the peanut burrower bug

Peanut farmers who don’t know the peanut burrower bug are fortunate. Growers who’ve battled the yield- and quality-reducing pest know something needs to be done to control it, and those growers can help find answers.

Peanut farmers who personally don’t know the peanut burrower bug are fortunate. Growers who’ve battled the yield- and quality-reducing pest know something needs to be done to control it, and those growers can help find answers.

A Georgia-based research project will hit the high-gears in 2017 to develop an index growers can use to gauge their risk for the pest and implement better ways to defend against it.

When Mark Abney arrived in Georgia in 2013 as the new peanut entomologist, there was plenty of interest (and pressure) to find ways to stop the ground-dwelling, peanut-pod-feeding bug, which for several years prior suddenly started causing major problems in parts of the state’s peanut-growing region, especially troublesome to dryland peanuts.

“There wasn’t a whole lot known about it then. There was some work done in South Carolina in the ‘90s and a little bit of work in Texas in the ‘70s,” Abney said. “We’ve learned some things in the past few years, but the reality is there still isn’t a whole lot known about it from a standpoint of its biology or why it became a pest for peanut.”

The peanut burrower bug is not an invasive species, which it is mistakenly believed to be. It is a native species to Georgia and confirmed to be as far north as Connecticut. So, it must have a wide range of host plants it can survive on -- not just peanuts, he said.

“We think of it as the peanut burrower bug, and that is its common name but it eats other things or it couldn’t survive the northeast,” he said.

In 2013, Abney received money from the National Peanut Board and the Georgia Peanut Commission to do research projects with University of Georgia Extension county agents, putting light traps in 15 counties to find out when the bug was most active and distributed across the state. Another project looked at how tillage influences the pest and on-farm insecticide trials.

After a couple of years of collecting that preliminary data, Abney and a team used that data to get a USDA Crop Protection and Pest Management grant.

The CPPM project has several objectives, but the main two are:

  1. To find out how peanut burrower bugs communicate with their own special pheromone. Similar to how boll weevil traps work by using an artificially-made boll weevil pheromone to attract and trap what once was a devastating cotton pest, the burrower bug project will develop pheromone-based traps, which are much cheaper and more practical than light-based traps. To pinpoint the peanut burrower bug pheromone, Abney is collaborating with a Maryland-based USDA scientist who discovered the brown marmorated stink bug pheromone, which can now be synthesized to monitor for that invasive stink bug.
  2. To develop a risk index, or risk assessment tool, in which a grower can enter production information -- such as crop history, soil type, insecticides, peanut variety, tillage system and location – and from that know how at risk a particular field might be for the burrower bug and if a level of treatment is economically needed and what precise treatment is recommended to lower that risk.

“We want to develop a way they can manage their risk before they even put a peanut in the ground,” he said.

There are not many management tactics for the peanut burrower bug available to growers. But the use of granular chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), irrigation and bottom plowing can reduce risk of burrower bug damage. But there is no one Silver Bullet.

One of the sneakiest problems with the peanut burrower bug is it feeds underground and unseen on the peanut pod, which lowers yield potential and in doing so also opens the door for aflatoxin to enter the pod. Every load of peanuts grown in the U.S. is graded. Even if a slight percentage of burrower bug damage (2.5 percent or greater of internal damage) is detected in a farmer’s load of peanuts, the grade of that peanut load drops to Seg. 2 and that farmer’s potential revenue for the load gets slashed.

A big mystery about the peanut burrower bug is why its presence and damage is so sporadic. It can be a big problem in one field and then a mile down the road at another field never be a problem. Very smart people, Abney said, from those at buying points to county agents, have tried to figure out this anomaly, but the investigations have mostly been confined to just one county or small region.

One of the biggest aspects of this new burrower bug project will be to find out on a state level exactly where, when and hopefully how the pest is a problem. Peanut growers who’ve dealt with the pest can help, Abney said.

“We’re working with Federal State Inspection Service to get information on all the burrower bug damage in the state. With that information we can go back, with the cooperation of buying point operators, county agents and especially the growers, potentially all of the growers who had burrower bug problem even if it was just 1-percent damage, and talk to that grower,” he said.

With that sort of statewide data set, you can better tweeze out commonalities, “and hopefully figure out why we see burrower bugs in this field and not in that field,” he said. “The scientist in me has to believe this is not random and that there has to be a pattern there and it is up to us to figure it out.”

Abney said he is working to get final permission to receive the names of peanut growers whose peanuts show burrower bug damage. He said the names of those growers will be protected and confidential to the project, and he hopes the growers will help.

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