From the field to the pasture, fire ants cause issues for producers on many levels. Surprisingly, the biggest issue they cause is damage to equipment. This not only cost farmers time but there is also the cost of the labor and repair.
Dr. Fudd Graham, an Alabama Extension entomologist, said the first step to treatment is determining the level of infestation and how to treat it.
“First determine if it is necessary to treat the pasture,” Graham said, who is also a researcher in the Auburn University Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. “Unless it is a calving pasture, it may not be economical to treat. Hayfields are another story since the mounds can damage equipment.”
Extension professionals have developed a worksheet to help farmers decide if fire ant treatment would benefit their pasture systems.
Choosing Fire Ant Bait
If it is determined that treatment is necessary, producers must learn how to properly treat fire ants in order to get the most fire ant control for the lowest cost. For pasture and hayfield situations, a fire ant bait is the proper choice.
Farmers need to pick a fire ant bait registered for their use site. The Alabama Cooperative Extension IPM guide for pastures and forages has a list of baits safe for pasture use.
Equipment for Spreading
For medium and large sized pastures, Graham said it is best to apply bait using a GT-77 Herd Seeder. More than 40 of these seeders are available for producers to borrow through the Alabama Extension.
Because of the small amount of bait applied, fertilizer spreaders do not work as they apply too much material. Seeders with rotating agitators tend to turn the bait into an oily mush that clogs the seeder. The Herd seeder has a vibrating agitator, which allows the bait to exit the seeder without clogging.
“Bait begins to break down as soon as it is applied,” Graham said. “Therefore, we recommend applications only when ants are actively foraging, from spring to fall.”
Make summer applications in the morning or evening hours using only fresh bait, because ants do not forage in extreme heat. If the bait is rancid, ants won’t be attracted to it.
Graham said one to two pasture treatments per year should be enough to keep the fire ant population in check.
“Treat pastures once a year in September, preferably with a bait containing an insect growth regulator,” he said. “When applying two treatments per year, apply in June and September. Insect growth regulator baits provide a longer fire ant free period than do the fast acting baits.”