A silent pest is eating away at peanut profits and has Georgia producers very concerned.

The burrower bug can wreak havoc on a farmer’s peanuts without him even knowing a problem exists.

The bug’s wrath was felt hardest in Georgia during the 2010 growing season.

Related to stink bugs, the burrower bug has needle-like mouthparts it sticks into the plant to suck out the juices. The insect feeds on the peanut kernel inside the pod, which decreases peanut quality.

“There’s a tremendous amount of concern among growers,” said Mark Abney, a University of Georgia peanut entomologist. “We can’t predict it. We can’t monitor for it right now very effectively.”

Abney, who started at the UGA Tifton Campus in July, plans to conduct research on the bug to develop effective management strategies for producers around the state.

Burrower bugs are difficult to monitor because they live below ground, and their damage often goes unseen until it’s too late, Abney said. In many cases peanut farmers carry their crop to the buying point, where it is graded, only to have the inspector point out the amount of damage.

If damage levels are high enough — greater than 2.5 percent — loads are downgraded for use in oil rather than the edible market. This results in a significant economic loss for the grower.

 

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A major challenge to burrower bug research and management is the unpredictability of when and where it will strike. Not all peanut fields are at high risk to burrower bugs. The bugs thrive in dry conditions and in fields planted using conservation-tillage.