Researcher looks for fields infested with wireworms

The search continues for southern Alberta fields infested with wireworms so that research into their life cycle and control can also continue.

Haley Catton, research scientist in cereal crop entomology with Agriculture Canada in Lethbridge, has one more summer of research planned in a study of wireworms that began in 2017.

She asked farmers at the Jan. 15 Agronomy Update to volunteer their fields for research if they are unirrigated with a history of wireworms, if wheat will be planted on them in 2019 and if they had rotations of cereals, canola and pulses in the previous two years.

Weekly soil core samples will be taken from participating fields each week, from pre-seeding to harvest, to check for wireworms and the click beetles that produce wireworms as part of the life cycle.

Currently available pesticides do not kill wireworms. Though neonicotinoids will put them temporarily to sleep, they are not a solution, Catton said.

And if neonics are phased out, as is a possibility, there will be no chemical control options at all for wireworms. However, Catton said BASF has submitted a chemical, broflanilide, for regulatory review in Canada, and it could be a potential chemical control with a new mode of action.

“It doesn’t mean that we should stop researching on the other integrated pest management options for this pest.”

Wireworms destroy the roots of crops and can drastically reduce production.

“This is a long-term pest with a long life cycle. It feeds on most crops but especially cereal crops and root crops like potatoes, carrots,” Catton said.

The species of wireworms that are economic pests in Western Canada are native to the region and well adapted to the variety of conditions that occur. They have multi-year life cycles and overlapping generations, which makes them more challenging to study and potentially control.

“With this big problem and no answers really forthcoming, what we need is research.”

Catton and her team are investigating the effect of crop rotation on wireworms and click beetles and trying to determine the beetles’ egg-laying preferences in wheat versus canola. They are also comparing trap types to find the best way to capture the beetles for study.

A third part of the project is to examine beneficial insects that might attack or otherwise control click beetles and/or wireworms.

Catton also plans to develop a wireworm field guide for Alberta.

Elsewhere in Canada, Catton said, researchers are working on a prairie wireworm survey, a pheremone project and studies on the pest in organic carrots and in potatoes.

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