Sugar Cane Aphids Descend on South Plains Sorghum Crops


Groups that work with Sorghum producers on the South Plains tell that this week, sugar cane aphids descended upon the sorghum crops in counties across the region. These tiny insects are a new and potentially problematic pest for Texas sorghum farmers.

“It is out of this world how quickly they can reproduce and spread through a field,” explained Katelyn Kowles, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Agent of  Integrated Pest Management  for Lubbock and Crosby counties.

The aphids, which were seen last year on South Plains sorghum crops as well, are being reported this week by producers in the area. These tiny insects have massive reproductive capabilities. They cover entire sorghum leaves with numbers well into the thousands, leaving behind a sticky residue which makes the plants impossible to harvest and drains them of their nutrients.

“So they went from barely there to ‘Oh my God’ we have aphids in a just about three days,” Kowles explained of the numbers this year.  “So these aphids are capable of extraordinary reproductive growth, they’re all females and they’re all clones of each other and they reproduce asexually and they’re actually born pregnant.”

Once born these aphids can then reproduce in three to five days, allowing them to spread prolifically over sorghum crops. Kowles explained that there’s still that farmers and scientists don’t know about the biology of these aphids.

“I was in a field in East Lubbock on Friday, I called the producer and said, ‘Your field’s looking good, no need to spray, beneficials ( ladybugs, lacewings and other predators)  are doing their jobs, I will scout early next week and let you know what’s going on,’ Kowles said Thursday. “I called him on Monday and I said, ‘You need to spray right now, you need to get out here, you’ve reached threshold I’m seeing colonies of in the thousands on a single leaf.'”

Kowles explained that while some aphid colonies are highly visible, some are more hidden. She recommended checking for aphids by cutting part of the plant off, then turning it upside down to see the undersides of the leaves.

Tim Lust,  CEO for National Sorghum Producers, has also been hearing reports of these aphids from producers in the past week. With over two decades of experience in the sorghum industry, he attests: these aphids really haven’t been a threat for Texas sorghum until the last three years.

“Certainly this is a new insect for our industry so it is concerning to our growers,” Lust said. “The bad news the insect moved north earlier this year, the good news is populations in this area have been low. Certainly this week, we’re starting to see increases so it’s gonna be important that growers are in their field observing to see if they have the insect.” 

He said that sorghum farmers on the High Plains don’t have problems farming with most of the insects around,  but these aphids present a new issue.

Thanks to research and work with chemical companies, Lust feels the sorghum community will be more prepared for the aphids this year.

“We know a lot more this year, we’re ready to go out and treat the crop if they need to, we just need to make sure that producers are aware and on top of it,” he said.

Kowles recommends that producers look into chemicals that can help protect their crops, but she said that only a few chemicals will strike the right balance of killing the aphids while keeping predators, like ladybugs, alive.

“The key here is early detection, so if you have sorghum, get out into your fields and start looking for aphids and before you reach threshold you really need to take that action,” she said.

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