Are aphids sucking away cereal profits?

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Aphid control decisions tend to be more problematic in moisture stressed winter cereal crops, since in a well supplied crop the level of moisture extracted from the crop by aphids is of little concern. However, in dry times every drop seems precious.

Had we not received the recent rain over the last few days throughout southern Queensland and northern NSW grain growing areas, we could have expected enquiries about aphids in stressed winter cereal crops. But even so, the crops aren’t finished yet, and so it’s timely to be reminded of what the different aphid pests are in winter cereals and the principles for managing them.

Aphid species
Four different species of aphid commonly attack barley and wheat in Queensland. They all prefer barley more than wheat. Aphids suck sap from the plants. Under heavy infestations plants may turn yellow, be stunted and appear generally unthrifty.

Oat or Wheat Aphid (Rhopalosiphum padi)
The oat aphid is brown to muddy green with rusty red patches at the base of the tubes at the rear end of the body. It normally occupies the base and lower portions of the plant. This is generally the most common aphid attacking winter cereals.

Corn aphid

Corn Aphid (Rhopalosiphum maidis)
The corn aphid is green to dark olive-green with a purplish area at the base of the tubes at the rear end of the body. It normally lives on the tops of the plants particularly within the rolled up terminal leaf.

Rose-grain Aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum)
The rose-grain aphid is pale green with a darker green stripe along the middle of its back. It normally occupies the undersides of the leaves. It colonizes the lower leaves and moves up the plant as leaves senesce.

Rice Root Aphid (Rhopalosiphum rufiabdominalis)
The rice root aphid is a honey-brown colour with a rusty red area at the base of the tubes at the rear end of the body. It normally occupies the roots of the plants under the soil surface.

Making decisions
The decision as to whether controlling aphids on winter cereals will provide an economic return is often complex, and is not just dependent on the size of the aphid population.

Several other factors could influence the control decision. Aphids are more readily controlled in seedling and pre-tillering crops which are less bulky than post tillering crops. Aphids tend to disappear as crops come into head.

Prolonged infestation of moisture stressed crops can exacerbate the effect of moisture stress. Yield potential, value of grain and cost of control are important considerations, but anecdotal evidence suggests that direct feeding by very large numbers of aphids is needed to impact on yield.

Larva of hover fly in an aphid colony.

Natural enemies (ladybird beetles, ladybird larvae, hover fly larvae, lacewing larvae or parasitic wasps) can exert effective control on small to moderate aphid infestations.

A general recommendation is to check for aphids by choosing six widely-spaced positions in the crop and at each position examine five consecutive plants in a row. If 27 out of 30 plants are covered with aphids and if there are less than two natural enemies per plant on each of the infested plants, then consider treatment. Delay any planned chemical control if rain is forecast and check again after rain.

Dimethoate at 500 mL/ha of 400 g/L product is the recommended chemical control. It has a withholding period of 28 days for harvest and one day for grazing.

Dimethoate has a contact action but is also a systemic insecticide taken up through the leaf and then translocated through the upper portion of the plant. Aphids are subsequently controlled when they feed on the plant.

The rice root aphid feeds below ground and can’t be effectively controlled by spraying.

Dimethoate may be tank-mixed with certain broadleaf herbicides. Check the label before use. Also check water quality as high pH can affect performance of dimethoate.

Dimethoate will kill natural enemies, increasing the possibility of subsequent aphid infestations later in the season.