Sugarcane beetles have been around a century or so, but rarely have been a pest of row crops in Virginia.

This year several crop-damaging populations have shown up in Virginia corn fields and the results have been devastating on a very small scale.

The 2011 corn crop will be one of the most valuable on record. Protecting the crop against insects, diseases and other yield-robbing factors will be more critical than ever before and the introduction of new insects into the cropping season is just what farmers don’t need.

The sugarcane beetle, as the name implies, is a frequent pest of sugarcane in south Florida and Louisiana and has been problem in corn in most southern states, but rarely in Virginia.

Damage in North Carolina has occurred statewide in some years, but most economically damaging populations are more commonly found in the Piedmont counties.

With one of the largest cotton crops in recent years predicted in the Carolinas and Virginia this year, growers need to be aware that sugarcane beetles also infest cotton.

But by far the biggest threat will come to corn, and even so, the problem is likely to be sporadic and likely will take care of itself by mid-to late June.

However, when you’ve got sugarcane beetles in your corn, there’s little you can do in terms of a curative treatment. Most of the feeding is done 1-2 inches below the soil and once young corn stalks begin to fall over, typically it’s too late to use an insecticide.

These tiny insects are mostly nocturnal feeders and can be both difficult to find and to kill. Typically, even if a grower decides to use one of a number of insecticides that will kill these insects, getting the material to the adult beetle is tough.

Granular organophosphate insecticides such as Lorsban 15G and Counter 15G applied in the seed furrow or banded across the row can reduce sugarcane beetle infestations in field corn.