When it comes to the corn earworm, farmers across the Southeast just might be experiencing the calm before the storm.

Jack Bacheler, a professor and departmental Extension leader at North Carolina State University, reports this perennial pest is already present in corn whorls. “We are not as concerned about this first generation of corn earworm larvae, because the damage they inflict to corn is typically minimal,” the entomologist says. “It will be the second and third field generation of corn earworm moths that we’ll be watching closely — especially the third generation.”

Ty Fowler, a DeKalb brand agronomist in Tifton, Ga., reports that corn earworm moths are already on the march in Georgia and Alabama, showing up earlier and in greater numbers than in previous years.

“It appears we have the potential for heavy corn earworm pressure in 2010 based on trap counts in May,” he says, noting that losing just three kernels per ear can equal one lost bushel per acre. “Frankly, the numbers of moths we are seeing this early in the season have caught a lot of people off guard.”

Until recently, corn growers in the South have more or less had to live with corn earworm damage. Insecticide applications are too costly to justify in field corn, the proper timing of applications is difficult and the target problem of getting the insecticides to the hatching earworms is a challenge. By the time ear feeding is discovered, it is usually too late for control measures.

However, this season, farmers across the South now have a new defense against the corn earworm. Fowler notes that Monsanto’s Genuity VT Triple PRO corn technology provides multiple modes of action against above-ground pests, including the first in-plant control of corn earworm, for improved grain quality and higher yield potential.

In large-plot trials conducted by Monsanto across the South in 2009, this technology demonstrated a 6-bushel-per-acre yield advantage over existing Bt insect-control technologies in areas experiencing high corn earworm pressure. “Genuity VT Triple PRO also enables Southern farmers to reduce their corn refuge from 50 percent to 20 percent, increasing whole farm yield and profit potential,” Fowler adds.

First, second and third generations of corn earworm can invade cornfields from spring through mid- to late-August. Second field generation moths lay most of their eggs directly on corn silks or green leaf tissue near the ear. When the larvae hatch, they move rapidly down the silk channel to feed primarily on the ear tips.

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