Sweet Corn IPM Newsletter No. 1 – June 23, 2017

Sweet CornSweet Corn IPM Newsletter No. 1 – June 23, 2017
Click on photos to enlarge.


European Corn Borer Active in Early Fields

The 2017 University of Maine Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for sweet corn is underway. More than twenty volunteer farms are serving as pest monitoring and demonstration sites, with fields in North Berwick, Wells, Dayton, Cape Elizabeth, New Gloucester, Poland Spring, Auburn, Lewiston, Sabattus, Nobleboro, Warren, Monmouth, Wales, Wayne, Oxford, Farmington, Levant, Stillwater, Garland and East Corinth. We have set up pheromone traps at these locations to monitor the adult (moth) stages of European corn borer, corn earworm and fall armyworm, and we are scouting the fields for feeding injury by insect larvae. We will share the information we collect along with management recommendations through this newsletter blog. If you would prefer to receive this newsletter via e-mail, give us a call at 207.933.2100 or send an e-mail message to: pamela.stpeter@maine.edu.


A cool, wet start to the season has delayed both the planting and emergence of sweet corn. Early plantings in southern Maine and plots started under plastic or row covers are mostly at late whorl or pre-tassel. Late fields are just starting to emerge. Early scouting has not shown any significant insect problems at this time, although we expect European corn borer to become active soon.

European corn borer:  Pheromone traps for moths are set up in the grassy borders around cornfields. We have begun scouting late whorl and pre-tassel fields in southern Maine, but have not yet found any larvae feeding on the leaves or emerging tassels. In the early stages, European corn borer larvae are very small and translucent with shiny black heads. They emerge from small egg masses that look like a tiny clump of overlapping fish scales on the undersides of corn leaves. European corn borer overwinters in Maine, and is usually the first pest to become a significant problem. To monitor corn borer, we scout 100 corn plants in each field, examining twenty plants in a row at five different locations. This provides a good estimate of the total amount of injury in a field.

In the early stages, European corn borer feeding damage looks like small “pinholes” in the leaves. Whorl stage corn only needs to be sprayed if fresh feeding injury is found on 30% or more of the plants scouted in a field. Once the corn reaches the pre-tassel stage, the control threshold is lowered to 15% because larvae feeding on the later stages are more likely to move into the ears. On the tassels, feeding damage first appears as chewing and brown waste found in the small florets. After the tassel has emerged from the whorl, the larvae chew into the stalk just below it, often causing the tassel to fall over. Sprays during the pre-tassel stage, when both moths and larvae are present, target the larvae before can they move into the protection of the stalks and ears. Good spray coverage of the entire plant provides the most effective kill of larvae as they move from one part of the plant to another. Rotating the type of insecticide used also improves control. Materials registered for controlling European corn borer include Bacillus thuringiensis products (XenTari®, Dipel DF®), Avaunt®, Coragen®, Warrior®, Lannate®, Baythroid®, Asana®, Radiant®, Delta Gold®, Mustang®, Sevin XLR® and Larvin®.

Growers should start scouting whorl stage corn for feeding injury now. Once corn reaches the silk stage, sprays may be based on the number of corn borer moths caught in pheromone traps rather than feeding injury. European corn borer moths will lay eggs on flag leaves of silking corn, and the larvae can move into the ears without leaving visible feeding injury that would be noticed when scouting. If more than five moths are caught during a week in a field with silking corn, a spray is recommended. Varieties of corn genetically modified to produce the Bt toxin (e.g. Bt corn, Attribute® varieties), should not need to be sprayed to control European corn borer.

Corn Earworm Moth
Corn Earworm Moth, photo by David Handley

Corn earworm:  We have set up pheromone traps around the state for corn earworm moths. Corn earworm generally appears in Maine in early July, but the actual date varies greatly. The arrival of this pest is only a concern for fields with corn in the silk stage. Fields not yet in silk do not need to be protected from corn earworm. When corn earworm moths are caught at a site, all silking corn in the fields should be protected with a spray. These moths lay eggs on the fresh silks, and the larvae move directly into the ears of corn. When corn earworm moths cannot find silking corn to deposit their eggs on, they may lay eggs on the leaves or tassels of younger corn. The larvae will feed on the foliage and tassels, similar to armyworm, until the ears become available. When larvae are found feeding on younger corn, the damage is accounted for, along with any borer or armyworm damage, to determine if a spray is warranted.

Fall Armyworm Moths
Fall Armyworm Moths (female right, male left); photo by James Dill

Fall armyworm:  This is usually the last serious corn insect pest to arrive in Maine. The moths must fly in from southern over-wintering sites, and tend to lay their eggs on the youngest corn available. When the larvae hatch, they chew large, ragged holes in the leaves, and may bore into developing ears. Larvae may also move into the ears through the silk channel, behaving similarly to corn earworm. Pheromone trap catches will indicate if there is a threat to silking corn. However, corn will usually be on a spray program for corn earworm when fall armyworm is present, and both insects would be controlled. Last year, fall armyworm moths arrived in Maine relatively early in the season, and were often more of a threat than corn earworm. This was an unusual situation for Maine and we will be watching fall armyworm closely this year to see if this is a new, unfortunate trend.

Common armyworm:  There have been reports of serious infestations of common armyworm in silage corn, alfalfa and hayfields this spring. Common armyworm can become active as early as April in Maine and can become a problem in early planted sweet corn. However, if the corn is established, it will outgrow the injury, as the caterpillars usually pupate before the ears develop. However, when heavy infestations occur, control may be required.  Common armyworm larvae are brown with yellow and black stripes running along the body. They chew large, ragged holes in the leaves, similar to fall armyworm.

Do-It-Yourself IPM:  To get the most accurate information about the pest situation on your farm you should monitor the fields yourself on a regular basis. Pheromone traps and lures are available that can give you an accurate, early warning of the arrival of all of the major insect pests. Traps and lures can be purchased from pest management supply companies such as Gempler’s (1.800.382.8473) or Great Lakes IPM (517.268.5693).

To learn more about IPM scouting techniques, insect identification and control thresholds, order the fact sheet Managing Insect Pests of Sweet Corn available from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Color pictures are provided to help with insect identification, and a chart with spray thresholds is supplied to post near your sprayer for easy reference. You can download a copy from our website or call the Pest Management Office at 1.800.287.0279.


David T. Handley
Vegetable and Small Fruit Specialist

Highmoor Farm, P.O. Box 179, 52 US Route 202, Monmouth, ME 04259, 207.933.2100

UMaine Extension Diagnostic Research Lab, Pest Management Unit, 17 Godfrey Drive, Orono, ME 04473, 1.800.287.0279

IPM Web Pages:
UMaine Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management
Penn State Pest Watch for Sweet Corn
UMass Amherst Integrated Pest Management

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