Lincoln County farmers and homeowners have been in a recent battle with army worms, and the fight against the invasive pest might not be over just yet.
The fall army worms – typically brown and striped caterpillars with an inverted “Y” on the back of their heads – tend to eat everything in their path, according to agents with the Tennessee Extension Service.
Homeowners and farmers across the South have been scrambling throughout the last several weeks to get ahead of the pests, which make their appearance during late summer and early fall.
Extension Agent Darrell D. Hensley said the pests develop into moths within a few weeks, but the larvae stage causes the most damage.
Hensley said in most years populations of the pest are low, however, this is “one of those crazy years.”
David Posey, who works in sales at the Lincoln Farmers Co-op, agrees with Hensley when it comes to amount of army worms this year compared to other years.
“There’s a good many of them in the area,” Posey said. “Normally, they’re not as bad as they’ve been this go around.”
Posey said August is typically drier in this region and this year’s wet weather could have made for a worse year than others. He believes it’s about the worse army worm problem he has seen within his 8 years at the Co-op.
The Lincoln Farmers Co-op has received a lot of calls about army worms, especially during the last week of August. The calls are currently tapering off, but Posey said the area could see signs of the pests again.
“I don’t how bad they we will be,” Posey said, adding army worms show up in waves and their life cycle is about 21 days, which falls around the same time as the Lincoln County Fair.
The Lincoln County Extension also received calls. Extension Agent Dan Owen said they were averaging 8 to 10 calls a day in late August. He agrees this season has been the worst for army worms in many years due to the moisture and humidity in the area this season.
“I’m hoping with this dry weather that maybe it will relax it some and it will not be so bad,” Owen said.
With homeowners and farmers turning to places like the Farmers Co-op for answers, some products have sold out.
“It got to the point we were selling out of the first choice, and we would go to the second choice,” Posey said. “Right now, there are a lot of things on back order with manufacturers because of an increase in demand.”
That means Posey and other associates are busy finding other concentrates and ready-to-spray items that will keep the problem under control.
“We will do whatever we can to get people fixed up,” he said.
Posey advises homeowners to pay close attention and look for signs of the army worms in the coming weeks.
Early signs include brown spots in the yard or patch that resembles drought. Extension Agents across the South have said they can seem to appear overnight. However, the larvae have most likely been feeding for a week or more before damage appears, agents said. Fall armyworms chew tender growth. Agents said they seldom kill healthy, established bermudagrass. Instead, they eat newly established stands of bermudagrass, winter annuals (rye, ryegrass and wheat), fescue or orchard grass are at the risk of stunting or dying. Owen said fields start out turning brown in patches and the areas will continue to grow.
“The main thing I’m seeing is you have to be scouting your fields,” Owen said, adding, he talked to a person who left for vacation for two or three days and the fields were fine, but when he returned the fields were gone.
“In just a matter of one or two days, (army worms) will strip a field out,” Owen said.
Owen recommends for those who are looking at reseeding pastures and hay fields to wait.
“I wouldn’t do it right now,” he said. “Because, once that comes up it’s going to be really tender and the army worms are going to love it. You may want to hold off a couple of weeks if you’re looking to renovate pastures.”