Aphids Brief Invation, Rapid Retreat Frustrate Farmers, Perplex Scientists
Chicago Tribune, August 28, 2000
Glen Volkening had just gotten back from a fishing trip two weeks ago when he noticed something peculiar at his Genoa farm. As he gazed across rolling acres of soybeans glistening in the sun, Volkening knew dull-green soybeans shouldn't glisten. When he walked through his crop to inspect more closely, his pants became coated with a sticky film. "You could slap a 2-by-4 on my leg, and it would hold on," he said. Then he discovered the culprits: Tiny green pests covered each leaf like lice, leaving behind trails of sugary slime. Volkening had become one of hundreds of farmers playing host to yet another unwelcome insect invader from the Far East, never seen in the United States. This month the insects have been found infesting soybean fields from Northern Illinois to parts of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. "In my 26 years farming here, I never saw anything like these rascals before in my life--and they were everywhere,"
Volkening spent more than $8,000, almost 3 percent of the sales he expects from harvest, for a crop-duster to spray his land. Scott Pierce of Marengo spent the same amount on his fields. Another farmer in Boone County doled out more than $10,000. With soybean prices at their lowest levels in 13 years, the spraying is especially hard to bear. "At the time, I thought it had to be done. It was out of control," Pierce said. "But now I'm not sure I made the right decision." Experts tentatively predict the aphid will not have much of an impact on this year's soybean harvest, which is expected to reach a record 3 billion bushels in the fall. The bug seemed to have done the most damage to the weaker, late-planted fields, but it was taken out before it could do too much harm to Illinois' second-largest cash crop, said Bill Hall, agriculture coordinator for the University of Illinois in Boone County. But scientists at U. of I. and the U.S. Agriculture Department are still struggling to uncover the soybean aphid's true nature and threat. Early evidence from a Chinese study indicated that aphids could do extensive damage. In one test, they reduced soybean yields by as much as 28 percent and decreased the crop's height by almost 8 inches. The bug also can carry viral plant diseases. But the research is still too vague to make any conclusions, Steffey said.