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Professor Expects Cold Winter To Have No Effect On Most Insects

If you were hoping that the harsh temperatures would kill off bugs, think again

While it seems logical that the extreme winter the Midwest has experienced this year would help decrease insect populations and make pest management easier this year, these cold temperatures will likely have no effect on the usual insects that affect soybeans, according to an Iowa State entomology professor.

“Many insects that damage soybeans have evolved to deal with extreme temperatures, such as these, and are prepared for cold temperatures for extended periods of time,” says Matt O’Neal, Ph.D., associate professor at Iowa State University. “For example, Japanese beetles overwinter in the soil as larvae. The larvae move down below the frost line during the fall and winter so they do not experience the same temperatures that we do. As temperatures increase, they then move back to the soil surface.”

The soy checkoff makes it a priority to keep U.S. soybean farmers informed on possible solutions to production issues. The checkoff funds research into various production challenges, including insects, and communicates the results back to the farmers who can use them.

What can negatively affect insects is temperature variability. An extended warm spell may cause insects to begin developing and emerge, such as Japanese beetles. But if the weather, then, turns cold again, those insects won’t be equipped to handle the sudden change, which could cause a decrease in their populations. O’Neal says he expects that this winter’s cold temperatures alone won’t have an effect on insect populations in the Midwest.

He also warns that if farmers use cover crops, those plants can offer habitat for migrating insects looking for a place to lay their eggs, such as moths that overwinter in the southern United States.

“I suggest that farmers who do not have a lot of experience with cover crops to scout their fields to ensure they aren’t putting their corn and soybeans at risk for migrating pests,” says O’Neal. “Not all cover crops will be affected by insects, but these fields may attract more pests early in the spring than crops planted into fields that did not receive a cover crop.”

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