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Aphids attack more than San Luis Valley crop fields

Modified: Thursday, Oct 27th, 2011

Green Peach aphid

SAN LUIS VALLEY — If aphids measured more than a quarter of an inch and had a pair of thumbs, the Valley’s human population would not have survived summer 2011.

This year San Luis Valley crop fields were infested with record numbers of aphids. These small insects converge on crops and suck the life out of a plant if they like its taste. Or they merely leave plants, particularly seed potatoes, disease ridden. Data is not yet available to determine the severity of the war wounds that the aphids inflicted in 2011, but agricultural scientists believe that the insects are guilty of causing serious problems.

“Aphids of all kinds were a lot worse this year,” Agro Engineering Bio-Ag Consultant Jeannine Willett said. “What made this year worse was mostly last fall because whenever you have a really nice warm fall and winter the aphids are able to lay more eggs.”

In August, Willett counted 37,419 Green Peach aphids from various traps placed throughout the Valley. Last year the count was 621. Although many types of aphids are accounted for annually, the Green Peach aphid carries the greatest threat.

“We care about the Green Peach aphid because it will transmit disease - specifically leaf roll - into the potato,” Willett said. “The aphid picks up the disease from a diseased plant and within 24 hours it is all throughout its system. Then it will transmit the disease to any plant that it feeds on.”

She said that the aphid also deposits babies on most of the plants that it physically contacts.

“Then the babies will pick up the disease, not from the mother, but from the plant,” Willett said. “Then they will have it for their life. It really threads that virus quite a bit.”

In order to compete with this year’s high aphid population, the Valley’s many growers had to step up their pest management, she said.

“Some of the seed growers killed as early as they could,” Willett said. “I would say a lot of them used more additional products.”

Additional products, she said, are variations of insecticides that paralyze aphid mouthparts or the entire aphid and oils that clean the aphid’s mouth and halt disease transmission. The majority of the pest management technologies do not kill the beneficial insects, but they do exhaust a grower’s bank account.

“The cost of the insecticides, it depends, there is a huge range,” Willett said. “It can be from around $7 an acre to $17 an acre every 10 days from the middle of June through harvest.”

She said that a community effort is the number one way to keep costly insecticides off of the Valley’s fields and out of the grower’s budget. Bedding plants - a plant that has been grown to the transplant stage - are aphid-carrying culprits.

“Green Peach aphids are brought in on bedding plants,” Willett said. “Quite often those plants from the grocery store, the greenhouses and the hardware store have Green Peach aphids on them. If the plants aren’t monitored and treated and then those plants get out in the community, that gets the aphids started.”

She said that she is able to go into area greenhouses, check for aphids and recommend a treatment, but that it is nearly impossible to control what happens in an individual residence.

“Last year a few small greenhouses brought peppers in that were infested with Green Peach aphids and then they had a terrible time trying to control them over the summer,” Willett said. “We just can’t control people who have them escape on their houseplants.”

Every individual in the Valley can play a part to keep aphid numbers down, she said.

“If you are buying bedding plants, inspect them very carefully,” Willett said. “If they have tiny bugs crawling around on them, don’t buy them. Notify whoever is selling them. This can really hurt the entire community and it requires a lot more pesticides.”

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