“By the end of April we noticed that we just weren’t seeing the population outbreaks that we were expecting,” he said. “Very few fields have populations of the sugarcane aphid and those that do are easily controlled with insecticides.”
Sugarcane aphids feed on plant leaves, leaving a sticky waste called honeydew to clog up harvesting equipment, Villanueva said. Once in the grain head, they can keep the grain from maturing, reducing both quality and quantity. They also force growers to spend on insecticides to control them.
Sugarcane aphids were first reported in the U.S. in Florida in 1977 in sugarcane. In Texas, they were first found feeding on sorghum near Beaumont in 2013. By October of that year the new sorghum-feeding biotype had spread to the Rio Grande Valley. They then made a northward trek through Texas and beyond.
“By October 2014, the aphid had reached about a dozen states in the South and several states in Mexico, Villanueva said. “It spread much farther and faster than anyone had predicted and quickly became the number one pest in grain sorghum.”