Production Blog

So Many Crop Invaders

(DTN/Progressive Farmer illustration by Barry Falkner)

Last summer I spent a few days at a children's writing workshop. One creativity exercise involved a hike during which we were to gather a nature specimen and describe it.

The fact that I plucked common chickweed along the garden path shouldn't come as a big surprise. My dissertation (errr ... description) began: "It's a winter annual easily controlled by fall or early spring burndown herbicides. It can form dense mats that can slow drying and warming of soil in the spring. It is one of several winter annuals that can serve as an alternative host for soybean cyst nematode (SCN) ..."

I looked up during this delivery to see the dazed looks and frowns on the faces of other workshop participants. Oops -- leave it to an ag journalist to literally get lost in the weeds. Yeah ... I might have listed the best herbicide tank mixes for control, too.

In agriculture, we often see invaders as threats, and we take them seriously. Over the next few days on DTN we will be spotlighting a series of stories focused on crop invaders. (You can also find the series in the mid-February issue of Progressive Farmer magazine).

You'll find articles detailing some long-time troublemakers such as western corn rootworm and soybean white mold.

There will be features on soybean cyst nematode (SCN) since it sneakily robs soybean growers of yield each year. And, as a recent survey by DTN shows, we are failing short on the "take the test, beat the pest" challenge when it comes to this pest. Our polls showed 40% of the respondents have never soil sampled for SCN -- the first and very critical step in fighting back.

However, one thing we also discovered in preparing this series is crop invaders aren't all bad guys. In fact, some of these invaders do good work and even lend themselves to fairly descriptive terms. Prepare to go "ewwww" when you read about "liquified larval guts" in DTN Staff Reporter Emily Unglesbee's article on beneficial nematodes that invade corn rootworms called Invasion of the Rootworm Snatchers. (You can see it at…)

For all of these articles we leaned heavily on scientists working on the many good, bad and very interesting invading pests in agriculture today. Farmers may sometimes question the practicality of research, but the passion and pursuit of answers by university and public scientists really shows when new invaders such as soybean gall midge, tar spot, cotton leaf roll dwarf virus and others unexpectedly come to call. Finding answers to these complex problems is far from simple or absolute -- especially in cases such as gall midge, a previously undocumented species of insect.

We know this series barely scratches the surface of all the invaders farmers face each year. In fact, we have a laundry list of "we need to cover" leftover topics.

If we didn't include a pest or problem that's been particularly vexing to you, let us know. As service journalists, that's what we love to do -- dig in and invade topics that matter.

And who knows, perhaps there is a book for children in some of these interesting creepy crawlers.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN



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