Drought-Thriving Spider Mites Target Corn Crops
KREX News Room
MESA COUNTY, Colo.- Local farmers say they're seeing a significant increase in spider mites killing off their crops this summer. Spider mites thrive on drought conditions and could affect crop prices at the market.
Agriculture is not without its insect problems, but weather has favored one persistent pest over the others in the Grand Valley this year.
"The No. 1 problem that we've had has been spider mites," said Bob Hammond, an entomologist with Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
These tiny creatures thrive on hot, dry conditions and plants that are under moisture stress. The infestation starts at the base and continues its way up the crop.
"When they get in high numbers, it looks like the corn plant is burned up. It turns brown from the bottom of the plant up," said Hammond.
Experts from the cooperative extension in Fruita say the infestation usually starts at the southwest portion of the field because of the wind. Spider mites travel easily in a light breeze and spread to that direction.
In addition to the ground-crackling heat of summer, the warm winter kept their population alive longer than normal, creating a much larger infestation than seen in previous years.
However, recent wet weather could change that. "A month ago, I was finding mites on 80 to 90 percent of the plants. I sampled last week and I found them on 2 out of 250 plants," said Hammond.
Growers say if more rain doesn't help kill more of the population, spider mites could have long-term effects on local crops.
"It can cause yield reductions and with the record prices for corn, all the corn we can get is better," said Hammond.
Hammond added that fewer yields will drive market prices even higher than farmers are already seeing from the drought.