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Life as a small-town vet

When Dr. Cliff Miller graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veter­inary Medicine in 2000, the faculty named him most likely to succeed in his class. Today, Miller’s Green Hills Veterinary Clinic in Moberly, Mo., is considered by several industry leaders as one of the state’s most successful mixed-animal practices.

“There’s a view that mixed-animal practitioners spend two-thirds of their time on large animals such as cattle and hogs, but earn two-thirds of their income from small pets,” said Richard Antweiler, executive director of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA). “Vets who deal with large animals have to be very good to survive, and Dr. Miller runs one heck of a practice. He’s on the cutting edge.”

The MVMA estimates that of about 2,000 veterinarians practicing in Missouri, around 30 percent handle large animals. In certain areas of MFA territory, however, large-animal practi­tioners are in short supply, Antweiler said.

“If you’re raising cattle, and there’s no readily available vet, that’s a problem,” he said.

Dr. Tony Martin, staff veterinarian for MFA Incorporated for 32 years, has seen a drop in the number of rural large-animal vets as farm numbers have declined. Martin manages MFA’s Animal Health Department and oversees sales of vac­cines, medications, ear-tag identifications and feed additives.

“I receive a significant number of calls from MFA dealers seeking answers to their customers’ questions,” Martin said. “It’s especially tough to get answers in areas where local vets have retired or left.”

Dr. Fred Gingrich, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practi­tioners, thinks the issue isn’t a shortage of vets but rather a distribution problem. In 2016, an association task force studied the issue.

“It was their opinion that there is not currently a shortage of veter­inarians for rural food supply,” Gingrich said. “However, underserved rural areas may not be able to sustain a veterinary practice.”

In fact, the task force expressed concern that an oversupply of vet-school graduates, along with the recession that began in 2008 and a decline in the number of livestock operators, could lead to too many large-animal vets. The association has 5,000 members and estimates that up to 12,000 vets in the U.S. report some cattle practice activity. That’s out of 120,652 veterinarian positions in the U.S., according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Bonnie Rush, interim dean of the Kansas State College of Veteri­nary Medicine, takes a more positive stance.

“Demand for veterinarians of all disciplines is at an all-time high,” she said.

Vets who treat large animals enjoy a number of benefits. The cost of living is usually lower in rural areas, and grant programs are available for students who agree to practice in remote locations.

Gingrich adds that plenty of successful vets treat large animals, and Miller’s thriving practice backs up that claim. Miller started his clinic in 2003 as the lone veterinarian with two employees. Today, he employs three other vets, all grad­uates of the Mizzou vet school.

“I have been fortunate to attract quality mixed-animal vets without a problem,” he said.

In addition, Miller employs 12 other team members, in­cluding four veterinary technicians with two-year degrees.

“We would have a hard time doing what we do without vet techs,” he said. “It’s even harder to find and retain quali­fied vet techs in rural Missouri than it is to attract veterinar­ians.”

Miller grew up raising hogs and cattle in 4-H and FFA. He, his wife, Suzanne, and their three sons—Colin, 11, Grant, 9, and Ryan, 6—live in Miller’s hometown of Moberly. Miller and his dad, Ed, partner on a nearby cattle and grain operation.

“I started telling people in second grade that my career goal was to become a vet,” said Miller, immediate past presi­dent of the MVMA.

There’s no normal day in his mixed-animal practice, Miller said. Most the time he works in the clinic, which includes facilities for large and small animals, but he also makes farm visits. In late January, he called on a cattle operation when the temperature fell to minus 10 degrees. But he said the benefits of working outdoors with animals in beautiful weather offsets brutally cold or scorching hot days.

“Everyone knows that a puppy becomes part of the family, but cattle producers also share a bond with their animals,” Miller said. “They nurse calves in cold weather and spend hours in the summer heat making sure the animals have feed and water.”

Most of Miller’s cattle practice involves reproduction and obstetrics.

“We help improve genetics, and make sure the bull is able to breed,” he said. “We help cows get pregnant, test whether they’re pregnant, and make emergency visits for problem births.”

The average Missouri cattle herd is about 40 cows, and Miller’s customers reflect those numbers. Many work a full-time job while raising cows on the side. Miller also serves a few larger operations.

“In Missouri, we’re fortunate to have healthy herds, and most farmers raise their own grass and forage,” he said. “But last year’s drought forced many growers to purchase hay at a time when cattle prices were down.”

In 2017, the Federal Drug Administration initiated a Veterinary Feed Directive requiring livestock growers to use certain antibiotic products in feed and water only on the order of a veterinarian.

“We have seen some increase in demand on our time as a result, but most of our customers were already using us for vet services,” Miller said.

Another trend that may help producers and their vets is the move toward ear-tag programs that identify cattle as meeting certain health standards, from nutrition to vac­cination. Miller works with customers who participate in programs such as MFA’s Health Track, a preconditioning verification program for beef calves.

“When cattle prices drop, that’s when smaller producers on the fringes tend to cut programs like this that might help,” Miller said. “There’s proof that buyers are willing to pay a higher price for that ear-tag guarantee.”

K-State’s Rush agrees that there’s a major trend toward producers and their veterinarians gathering more data on livestock with a goal of making better decisions for animal health, welfare and increased profits.

“Large animal and rural practices continue to adopt new technology, allowing more efficient and detailed, real-time communications with clients,” she said.

Antweiler said he believes that vets and livestock growers will cooperate more in the future.

“There’s more professionalism coming into the cattle busi­ness,” he said, “and I hope that changing mindset prompts more growers to partner with vets to improve cattle health and genetics, which leads to greater grower profits.”

Miller hatched an idea that illustrates how a vet can work with smaller cattle producers to increase earnings. For nine years he’s partnered with eight customers to pool calves and market them together.

“I work on health and nutrition and predict a market date based on projected weight gain,” he said. “We try to match the timing with positive market prices. We put together a semi-load and market through an online video auction. Buyers are willing to pay more for animals with health-relat­ed ear tags, along with a uniform package with calves of the same size and sex.”

Despite the challenges of a large-animal veterinary prac­tice, Miller said he loves working with animals and the peo­ple who care for them. Still, that passion isn’t always enough to succeed. It takes a higher level of dedication.

“Our mission is to exceed people’s expectations, recom­mend best practices and make sure we’re able to offer them,” Miller said. “We always advocate for the patient and help them live a healthy life. If you do that, economic returns follow.”

Medicine Women
Female veterinarians outnumber their male counterparts

Your next large-animal veterinarian may be a woman.

“Every college of veterinary medicine in North America has more female students than male,” said Bonnie Rush, interim dean of Kansas State University’s vet school. “Some are not only going into large animal practice, but they are also thriving.”

Dr. Jessica Stroupe falls into those statistics. The mixed-ani­mal veterinarian graduated from the University of Missouri vet­erinary college in 2012, and she already owns her own practice in her rural hometown of Fayette, Mo. During and following vet school, Stroupe worked with the owners of Howard County Veterinary Service, Dr. Richard Taylor and Dr. Kenneth Vroman. Taylor retired in 2012 when Stroupe started at the clinic, and she took over the business when Vroman retired in 2016.

“When the opportunity came up, I jumped in,” Stroupe said. About half of her practice involves cattle, and the rest is com­panion animals, including cats, dogs and horses.

Even though female large-animal veterinarians may have clients here and there who at first doubt their abilities, Stroupe said successful interactions can prove their value and build re­spect. Her cattle-producing clients were accustomed to working with male veterinarians, and it took time to build trust.

“I’m relatively small, at least compared to my male counter­parts, and when I showed up with my blond ponytail, I could see doubt on their faces,” Stroupe said. “But then they saw that I would roll up my sleeves and get the job done.”

Dr. Fred Gingrich, executive director of the American As­sociation of Bovine Practitioners, reports that one-third of the association’s 5,000 members are female.

“Gender plays no role in the success of a bovine practi­tioner,” he said. “If you look at those graduating in the last 10 years, the majority are female.”

While many students know they want to be a vet from childhood, Stroupe took a winding path. She grew up as a town kid in Fayette and attended the University of West Florida planning to become a marine biologist.

“Along the way, my interest in animals grew broader,” Stroupe said.

Most students complete four years of under­graduate studies before applying to vet college. Stroupe didn’t decide to become a vet until just before her junior year. She built up the academic prerequisites and met the 400 hours of working with animals required by shadowing a veteri­narian and working at an animal sanctuary. The Mizzou vet school accepted her early—prior to her senior year.

The cost of education can be daunting, but Stroupe avoided a large debt load by earning academic and athletic scholarships for her un­dergraduate study. She excelled in cross-country and track in high school and college, and even­tually ran in the Boston Marathon. An anony­mous donor provided a scholarship for her final year of vet school.

While Stroupe never intended to return to Fayette, she married her high school sweetheart, Patrick, who worked on his parents’ dairy farm while she commuted to vet school in Columbia. They built a tiny cabin on the farm to minimize expenses. She worked weekends at the vet clinic and lived frugally, driving an old Toyota, pack­ing her lunch and managing without a smartphone.

“This allowed me to graduate with significantly less debt than most of my classmates, who carried an average debt load of $145,000 each,” Stroupe said. “Today, my loans are almost paid off.”

Stroupe discovered the benefits of living in a small town when she developed cancer in 2017. She received great sup­port from the community, her family and the clinic staff.

“Knowing my patients and clients were taken care of made my treatment and recovery much easier,” Stroupe said.

She and Patrick are now parents to 2-year-old son, Leland, and they built a larger home for their growing family. Being a wife and mother while running a veterinary practice can be challenging, Stroupe said, but her passion for working with animals makes it all worthwhile.

“There are times when you get an emergency call during dinner, and you have to scramble to find childcare,” she said. “Most practices don’t provide paid maternity leave, and in many cases, women return to work before they are ready. There are balance issues, but I love my job.”

Grants available for rural vets

Aspiring veterinarians willing to work in underserved rural areas are eligible for several types of grants to help with education costs.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture offers a Veterinary Medi­cine Loan Repayment Program that pays up to $25,000 a year toward education for veterinarians who agree to serve in vet-shortage areas for three years. Con­tact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 202-740-6486 for more information.

The state of Missouri offers the Dr. Merrill Townley Large Animal Veterinary Student Loan Program. The loan provides $20,000 for living and educational expenses incurred during their veterinary education process for six individuals per academic year. The loans are forgiven provided the students practice large-animal veterinary medicine in a defined area of need ($20,000 for each year of service provided). Applicants are selected by an appointed advisory committee on an annual basis. For more information, contact the Missouri State Veterinar­ian’s office at 573-751-3377 or visit online at agriculture.mo.gov/connect/ youth/vetstudent.php.

The Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas, a state-funded workforce development program at K-State, promotes rural practice success. Five students are enrolled in every class and receive $20,000 a year in loan forgiveness for each year after serving an underserved county in Kansas for a minimum of four years. Contact 785-532-4892 or visit online vet.k-state.edu.

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In this March 2019 issue

The bug issue
Insights on insects that impact agriculture (Cover Story)
by Kerri Lotven

Conversion nearly complete for MFA’s MerchantAg software
Last company-owned stores go live, grain platform still under development
by Allison Jenkins

Trade, technology and trends
Governor’s Conference on Agriculture returns with MORE in store for attendees
by Allison Jenkins

Spring forage management
Make plans for timely fertilizer applications, weed-control programs
by Doug Fast

What is Shield Technology?
Learn what product is right for your herd
Downloadable CHART

GMO foes know less than they think
Study finds those with most extreme oppositional views have the least knowledge on the topic
by Eric Bohl

New Clean Water Rule gives farmers clear guidelines
by Allison Jenkins

Behind the beans
Missouri Crop Improvement Association has helped MFA test for the best since 1947
by Allison Jenkins

Make sure your N gets in
Stabilizers can guard your plant nutrients, protect your fertilizer investment
by Dr. Jason Weirich

Group newborn calves by age to lower disease risk
Ensuring quality ‘first meal’ of colostrum also helps maximize immunity
by Dr. Jim White

Country Corner
Food traditions connect families, communities
by Allison Jenkins, Editor of Today's Farmer Magazine

UpFront
‘Year Ahead Report’ suggests slowing economic growth, growing ag debt
Spring starts drought-free
Marshall to lead Missouri Farmers Care

Markets
Corn: Corn exports up dramatically over last year
Soybeans: Trade negotiations continue to influence price
Cattle: Beef consumption holding steady
Wheat: Global exports, crop condition will direct spring markets

Recipes
Tasty twists - Food Page

Marketplace
BUY, sell, trade (click for classifieds as printed)


Viewpoint
Structuring MFA for the future
by Ernie Verslues

Click on the issue below to view magazine flipbook.

 

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Behind the beans

Before they ever reach a farmer’s field, MorSoy varieties face an extreme obstacle course to weed out seed that can’t handle the pressure.

First, the varieties must perform well in replicated variety trials across MFA’s territory. Next, the seedstock needs to survive the rigors of production and processing. Even then, there’s no guarantee the beans will make the cut.

That’s because the final hurdle is the Missouri Crop Im­provement Association, where the seed has to pass a battery of tests before it is deemed worthy of MFA’s own MorSoy brand. At the MCIA laboratory in Columbia, Mo., each seed sample undergoes up to nine different evaluations, from germination and purity to herbicide tolerance and accelerated aging.

The result is an objective, scientific assessment of the seed’s quality, said Richard Arnett, MCIA’s executive di­rector, no matter the company, brand, technology or variety involved.

“We are the bridge between research-and-development and the producer,” he explained. “Back in the day, we were the only thing between the seed com­pany and the producer. Today, even though most of the larger companies have their own in-house quality-control program, it’s still important that someone provides unbiased quality assurance, especially with the value in some of these seed traits. For produc­ers to capture that value, they have to make sure to start with seed of known purity so when it gets to the end user, it is what it’s supposed to be.”

MFA Incorporated has used the Show-Me State’s non-profit crop improvement association for inspect­ing, testing, verifying and certifying seed since 1947. In fact, MFA is the oldest member of the MCIA, which was formed in 1904 as a student club at the University of Missouri. Early work focused on the improvement of corn, eventually branching out into other crops. Today, the MCIA provides inspection and testing services on more than 800 brands or varieties and more than 100 different species or crops.

While MFA’s Seed Divi­sion maintains its own strict quality-control procedures from start to finish, having third-party verification by the crop improvement association gives growers added assurance.

“It speaks to the brand and the confidence that our custom­ers have in the brand,” said Steve Fleming, MFA Incorporated Seed Division director. “Growers want to know they are buy­ing a high-quality product, and when they purchase a bag of MorSoy, they know they’re getting that quality. It’s been tested

so thoroughly by the time it gets to the farm, we know it will perform.”

With the MCIA’s independent testing, those claims of quality are backed by more than just MFA’s word. They’re backed by the expertise of registered seed technologists such as Trent Hall, a member of the Society of Commercial Seed Technologists, which works with the Association of Official Seed Analysts to develop the rules for testing seed in the U.S.

“We’ll give you an honest evaluation of your product,” said Hall, a 41-year employee of the MCIA. “Not that other people are dishonest about it, but with the current staff here, we have 135 years’ worth of experience in dealing with seeds grown in Missouri’s environment. We’ve seen it all.”

It takes a special kind of person to analyze seed, Hall said. The job is meticulous, repetitive and exacting.

“You have to be very patient, you have to be conscientious and you have to stay sharp,” he said. “It’s such a detailed process, and standardization is key. It’s important that everyone who tests the product is testing it and evaluating it the same way.”

The MCIA handles around 4,000 samples a year, Hall said. By far, soy­bean is the most widely tested species, but the lab also analyzes wheat, small grains, grasses and a wide range of miscellaneous seeds. Most recently, he said, cover crop seed has become a bigger part of that mix as the practice has grown more popular in Missouri.

When seed arrives at the lab from the production companies or farmers, key identifying information is recorded in the computer, and then the sample is divided into smaller portions for testing. The number of sub-samples depends on the number of tests to be performed.

“The testing has gotten more com­plicated as seed traits and value have changed,” Hall said. “When I started here, we did two basic tests: germina­tion and purity. Now, we’re up to nine or more tests per sample.”

For MFA’s MorSoy seed, those tests typically include:

Varietal purity test — Seed sam­ples are scrutinized by MCIA staff for the percentage of pure seed, inert seed, other crop seed and weed seed. They’re also checked for hilum color, which can differentiate off-types.

Normal germination test — Seeds are “planted” on a wet paper towel, rolled up and placed in the germinator for seven days at 77 degrees Fahrenheit to simu­late ideal planting conditions. Each test includes a total of 400 seeds, 50 seeds per towel. After seven days, the towels are unrolled, and ana­lysts count the number of seeds that germinated properly.

In Missouri, the minimum germination level for soy­beans is 80 percent. For MFA, that’s not good enough, Fleming said.

“Our benchmark is 90 percent germination on soy­beans; 95 percent on corn,” he said. “The lower that germ, the higher population you have to plant to get the stand you want to produce the yield that you want. It all goes back to what we want our brand to represent.”

Sand germination test — Seeds are planted in a tray of sand and allowed to germinate for seven days under those “ideal” conditions (77 degrees). MCIA staff then records the percentage of normal germination from that sample, which consists of 100 seeds (200 per flat).

“The rolled towel creates artificial conditions; the seed is constricted and kept in the dark,” Hall explained. “That can exaggerate any damage to the seed. The sand test can be a more accurate test when dealing with diseased samples.”

Treated-seed germination test — Seed is hand-treated in the lab with insecticides or fungicides and then put through the rolled-towel germination test. The treated seeds are then analyzed to see how the treatment affected germination.

Herbicide tolerance — Seeds with tolerance traits for glyphosate and sulfony­lurea (STS) are tested in-house at the MCIA lab; others, such as those with dicam­ba, glufonsinate or 2,4-D tolerance, are sent to other labs equipped to handle them. To test for tolerance, seeds are soaked in the relevant herbicide overnight, rolled in wet towels and then evaluated for germination the next day.

“Depending on the mode of action in the herbicide, any non-tolerant seeds will be stunted in different ways,” Hall said. “The threshold is determined by whoever owns the trait.”

Accelerated aging stress test — Seed is placed in a small, divided tray with 40 milliliters of water in the bottom, and then subjected to temperatures of 105.8 degrees for 72 hours in the lab oven. After the seed is removed from the oven, it undergoes a normal germination test.

“High heat and humidity are the two things that stress seed the most,” Arnett explained. “With the weather conditions we’ve got now, you never know what you’re going to get. People want to know how the seed will react under stress, not just under perfect conditions, which we rarely get.”

Depending on the number of tests performed and the lab’s workload, the entire process can take anywhere from two to four weeks. Arnett, who’s been with MCIA since 1983 when he was a student at Mizzou, says most farmers and even industry personnel have no idea how much testing goes behind those beans.

“Most of what we do here, people don’t ever think about,” Arnett said. “They just assume that when the truck pulls up to deliver their seed, they don’t have to worry about it. They trust that the seed is what it’s supposed to be; it’s pure, and it’s going to germinate. But so much goes into making sure growers have that assurance.”

For more information about the Missouri Crop Improvement Association, visit online at moseed.org. Learn more about MFA’s MorSoy and MorCorn brands at mfaseed.com.

More from this March Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE .

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The bug issue

Stepping onto his porch one day last June, Jay Fogle looked out over his favorite alfalfa field on his farm in Peculiar, Mo. Something wasn’t quite right.

“He sent me a picture,” said MFA Crop-Trak Consultant Erica Wagenknecht, who scouts Fogle’s fields. “There was this triangle-shaped, yellow burn toward the leaf tips.”

For Fogle, a fourth-generation dairyman, alfalfa equals milk production, and he need­ed answers. When Wagenknecht arrived at the farm, she swept the field with a net and found the source of the problem—potato leafhop­per—which causes a discoloration on the leaf tips known as hopperburn. It wasn’t an insect she had encountered before on this farm.

A native species, the potato leafhopper feeds on the un­derside of leaves in a wide variety of plants. As it feeds, it injects a toxin that, in alfalfa, reduces yield, lowers protein content and increases root rot and stand failure. In Missou­ri, potato leafhopper can produce two to three generations each summer.

“It overwinters in the south and migrates north with southern winds in the summer,” Wagenknecht said. “Because 70 percent of potato leafhoppers are female, and their eggs hatch in about a week, it can quickly become devastating for farmers.”

In addition to alfalfa, Fogle raises corn, soybeans and beef cattle, operates a bakery and milks 50 cows twice a day. He also experiments with other crops such as hay beans and sorghum.

“Being a dairy, there are challenges with treating an insect like this,” Fogle said. “We had to check the harvest interval and feeding restrictions. With alfalfa, there are only a few chemical options for treatment anyway. So we had to not only think about what we would spray and what would work but also how many days would we have to wait before we could harvest and feed it.”

Wagenknecht got to work and did some research, locating a product that would fit the requirements.

“I think researching residuals generally takes up most of Erica’s time,” Fogle said. “But bugs can be the difference between a good yield and a bad yield real quick, and it’s typically the least expensive thing to fix.”

Fogle has participated in MFA’s Crop-Trak for 10 years, and Wagenknecht has scouted roughly 200 acres of the farm for the past four years. The program employs independent consultants who work with farmers on cropping plans and scout fields once a week during the growing season. Fogle said he’s learned something from each agronomist who has scouted for him; in turn, Wagenknecht says she and her fellow consultants learn from scouting such a diverse operation.

“There’s a difference between driving past a field and walking through a field,” Fogle said. “By the time you can visually see a problem driving past it, you’re definitely in reactive mode. It is already well into an issue. That’s the difference in having someone walk the field. They can tell the changes in the field from this week to the next and know when they need to look deeper.”

Cultural, biological and chemical

Crop-Trak consultants encourage growers to use the integrated pest management model, which brings together a broad-based approach to control insects. Cultural practices such as crop rotation, soil health management and “trap” crops—planted to attract insect pests from another crop—help to reduce or eliminate harmful insect populations. Biological controls introduce insects’ natural enemies to reduce damage caused by a specific population. Chemical controls are sprayed to prevent, destroy or repel pests.

“Insects are like dealing with any other pest,” MFA Senior Staff Agronomist Jason Worthington said. “We put a lot of attention on our herbicide program ahead of season, and most growers understand with a weed like waterhemp that you have to attack it before it becomes a problem. If you let weeds get out of control, even if you clean them up, they’re going to rob yield from you. Insects are no different.”

There are some insects, like cutworms, that growers can’t react to fast enough, Worthington said, so preventative measures should be taken at the proper timing.

But not all insects in any given field are bad, he stressed. Lady beetles and their larvae control aphids and mites. Lacewings can quell aphids. Parasitic wasps can repress caterpillar populations and other insects. Even spiders and assassin bugs are predators that do their part. Eventually, Worthington said, he expects these biological controls to become more prevalent.

“In the future, we may be able to introduce beneficial microbes that, similarly to beneficial insects, could help control pest populations,” he said. “We are currently evaluating some of these products that are already on the market.”

From a stewardship standpoint, it’s important to understand what threats move so rapidly that pre­ventative control is warranted, Worthington added.

“And not only do they move rapidly, but how common are they? Are they something that we deal with most years? If they don’t fall into those categories, then do we have time to react?” he said. “Sometimes in terms of beneficials we can be doing more harm than good by spraying. So starting with a good plan for those frequent and quickly developing insect pests is paramount. Following up for those less frequent, but still potentially damag­ing, pests with thorough scouting is really the way to go.”

Monitoring and diligence

Year in and year out, MFA’s crop scouts and agronomists have an idea of what they need to watch for each season, Worthington said.

“Every year, we contend with cutworms in corn, Japanese beetles in soy and weevils in alfalfa,” Worthington said. “But the bigger question is what’s going to show up that we don’t expect? Are we going to have an army worm year or not? What are going to be our pod feeders? Are we going to see any invasives? I don’t know if it’s so much preparing for a specific insect. It’s more about making sure we’re diligent in our scouting efforts and looking for these things. It’s one of the big reasons we have Crop-Trak—to catch what we don’t expect.”

For more information on Crop-Trak, contact Jason Worthington at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 573-876-5299.

Invasives: the good, the bad, and the bugly

With global trade often comes invasive insect species. The Japanese beetle, for example, was first discovered in 1916 on the East Coast but is thought to have entered the U.S. as larvae via imported plants before inspections began in 1912. When dealing with eggs and larvae, it’s almost impossible to catch everything, but the issue with invasive species is their natural enemies usually don’t make the trip with them, said Dr. Kevin Rice, University of Missouri assistant professor of entomology and state Extension specialist.

“Typically with invasive species, they’re transported here unintentionally,” Rice said. “They hitchhike on our cargo. A couple of pregnant females reproduce, and they have explosive growth patterns because there’s nothing in this new environment to
control them.”

Rice said the lack of natural predators leads to a couple of problems—higher populations and greater economic damage certainly—but it also means entomologists in the area typically haven’t studied the insect’s biology or ecology to figure out if there are better ways to manage it. Therefore, chemical control becomes the default.

“Unfortunately when we get these invasive species, our growers are sort of forced into relying solely on chemical control,” Rice said. “And because we don’t have any other management modes, they typically go to calendar-based weekly sprays, causing an imbalance in our integrated pest management and potentially disrupting what they’ve been working toward for many decades.”

Once forced to rely on chemical control, Rice said, there are often secondary pest outbreaks due to repeatedly spraying for one insect. For example, growers also may wipe out the natural enemies for a native pest species such as aphids, which can then grow out of control. Persistent spraying also puts products at risk for the target pest developing resistance.

“It’s a difficult problem because we can’t just give up that economic loss,” Rice said. “But we should keep established economic thresholds in mind to determine when spraying is necessary.”

Here are some of the invasive species Rice has been studying that could impact growers in MFA’s territory:

Japanese Beetles

Before joining the MU staff in January 2018, Rice worked in Pennsylvania and outside of D.C. in field crops. But he said he’d never seen populations of Japanese beetles like he saw here in Missouri this past summer.

Though the beetle was introduced in the early 1900s, it moves slowly. It’s taken roughly 100 years to make it this far west. Missouri is right on the invasion front, Rice said.

“We had fewer beetles in the mid-Atlantic because several decades ago the USDA released these tiny wasps on the East Coast that parasitize Japanese beetle grubs,” he explained. “That has lowered the population in those areas, but we’re currently forced to deal with higher-than-normal populations until it makes its way here.”

The good news is the wasp, known as Tiphia vernalis or the more common “spring Tiphia” was redetected in 2018 after 10 years in Meramec State Park near Sullivan, Mo.

“It’s going to come behind the Japanese beetle, establish its own populations and lower the Japanese beetle population to a much less economically damaging level,” Rice said.

There are a lot of questions about chemical resistance and Japanese beetle, he continued, but currently the insect shows no resistance to standard controls.

“Pyrethroids and other classes are excellent at knocking these guys down,” Rice said. “You can spray on Monday and kill 100 percent of the adults in your field, but they move around so much that they will come in from your neighbor’s field and untreated natural habitats, making it a continual problem.”

Soil treatments aren’t recommended for Japanese beetles for similar reasons. Killing all the grubs in one field doesn’t prevent them from moving in from adjacent areas. It isn’t an economically viable solution, Rice said.

Soybeans are also resilient plants that can withstand some leaf damage, he added.

“In soybeans, we see a lot of defoliation, but a lot of times it looks worse than it really is,” Rice said. “When judging the amount of damage, growers and scouts should look at the entire plant. The upper leaves may have 20 percent damage, but if the whole plant doesn’t have 20 percent damage, you don’t need to spray. Those lower leaves are still getting enough photosynthesis to protect your yield.”

In corn, damage from Japanese beetles is largely cosmetic, he said. At silking, they can reduce pollination, but if the silks aren’t present, the issue isn’t that bad.

Soybean Gall Midge

A more recent discovery, the soybean gall midge, began making headlines in the Midwest in 2011. Initially isolated to a few fields, the pest has been reported in several states including Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota. Because of its proximity to state lines, Rice said he’s willing to bet it’s also in Missouri but hasn’t been detected yet.

“The soybean gall midge is related to the Hessian fly,” Rice said. “It produces this orange maggot under the stem of soybeans and attacks healthy plants. It actually looks like some of the bacterial rot you might see, but then the stem falls over. If growers are seeing this, I would encourage them to cut open the stem to see if they have the larvae.”

Unchecked, a 100 percent infestation results in significant yield loss. The damage usually starts to appear on the edge of fields and may correspond with disease.

“We don’t know a whole lot about this insect,” Rice said. “We’re getting a lot of this information from our colleagues in Nebraska. It’s possible there is a correlation with disease, but we don’t know if the insect is increasing disease because it’s making a mechanical wound or if the disease comes first.”

Though the soybean gall midge hasn’t been found in Missouri, Rice is advising growers, scouts and Extension agents to be on the lookout in the upcoming growing season.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB)

BMSB made its way to the U.S. in the early 2000s. Native to Asia, the BMSB is an extreme generalist and feeds on more than 200 species of host plants, including vegetables, fruits, field crops, ornamentals, woody shrubs and hardwood trees. The insect also overwinters in houses, which is often where it is first reported.

The way to tell BMSB from native species is to look for light and dark banding on the antenna. The instars, which look like little ticks, also sport similar coloring, making it distinguishable in all stages of the life cycle.

“BMSB has a high dispersal capacity,” Rice said. “On average females will fly about five kilometers a day, but when we put them on flight mills and forced them to fly, they can fly up to 80 kilometers a day.”

BMSB likes to switch up its diet, consuming a balance of protein and carbohydrates as it flies between tasty choices like soybeans and orchards. By balancing their diet, females produce more eggs, ensuring the continuous survival of the species. Due to its varying appetite, BMSB is mostly found on the edges of fields near woody areas as the pest moves back and forth between meal sources.

“We studied BMSB a lot in the mid-Atlantic because it has done a ton of damage there,” Rice said. “For apple growers in 2010, it caused $37 million worth of damage. The good news is, if you do it right, one well-timed border spray will wipe out most of this species.”

BMSB reduces quality and yield in both corn and soybeans. Intense early-season feeding can damage seeds and seedlings. Growers may notice what is called “stay green syndrome,” in which the plant fails to continue developing. This causes problems at harvest if the interior of the field is dried down but the edges aren’t.

By running a series of weather and temperature models using data from the last 30 years, Rice determined that BMSB produces two generations in Missouri. Further evaluation will investigate how temperature increases change the population boundaries in Missouri and neighboring states.

Because BMSB was doing so much damage in the mid-Atlantic, in 2005 the USDA sent agents to Asia to find a natural predator to the stink bug variant. There, they located the Samarai wasp, which is native to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

“What’s interesting about this story is that, of course, you can’t just go get something and throw it into the environment,” Rice said. “You have to test to make sure it’s not going to attack bees or butterfly species. During the course of testing, in 2014, the researchers found a Samarai wasp outside, very close to their experimental station in Maryland.”

The news hit the media, and the fear was the researchers had let the quarantined wasp escape.

“Through independent DNA tests, they determined the wasp they had in their colony was very different from the wasp they found outside,” Rice said. “It had actually made the trip on its own.”

Since that time, the Samarai wasp has been found in 10 other states, indicating it’s been in the U.S. for some time.

Rice said that’s a positive for those facing BMSB damage. Female wasps lay their eggs in the stink bug eggs, and the larvae develop in the eggs and emerge.

“In Asia, these wasps control 90 percent of BMSB,” Rice said. “We hope it establishes and spreads one day, making its way to Missouri.”

And though it looks similar to BMSB, Rice reminds scouts and growers that the spined soldier bug is a “good guy” and preys on a variety of other insects.

Kudzu Bug

Also native to Asia, the kudzu bug was first detected in Georgia in 2009. It’s currently in nine states, including parts of the Bootheel.

“In the South, it feeds on kudzu,” Rice said. “The bad news is it also feeds on soybeans, shrubs and trees. It initially caused 50 percent soybean yield loss in Georgia. It’s not that bad now, though, because we’ve learned some things about its biology and how to control it, For example, if you control weeds along the edges of fields, that helps prevent it from actually moving into the field.”

Like BMSB, the kudzu bug is also found on field borders, produces several generations per year and overwinters in homes. In addition, kudzu bugs release a chemical that causes skin rashes.

Sugarcane Aphid

The sugarcane aphid was first discovered in the 1970s in Florida, but in 2013 large populations of the pest made a switch from sugarcane to sorghum. It is now in 15 states, including Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma.

“If you have sorghum, a sugarcane aphid infestation can result in 100 percent yield loss,” Rice said. “The female aphid produces live young. It’s one of the only insects to do this. One interesting fact is that when the female has her baby, that baby already has another baby inside of it. Because of this, within a few days you can have thousands upon thousands of aphids, especially if there isn’t anything eating them.”

There are several insecticides that work well on the aphid, but frequent scouting and early detection are important. If the population gets to a certain threshold, insecticides can’t control it.

“Because they reproduce asexually and hide underneath leaves, you won’t get full coverage with chemicals at a certain point,” Rice said. “Field scouting and knocking them down early is really the only option we have right now.”

Spotted Lantern Fly

Detected in 2014 in Pennsylvania, the spotted lantern fly feeds primarily on grapes and sometimes hardwood trees. When they feed, they produce honeydew, which can lead to secondary problems of sooty molds.

“The wine industry there has taken a massive hit,” Rice said. “There has been 100-percent yield loss in vineyards, and it’s actually killing the vine. It’s not only that one year of yield loss. Now you have to replant, which is devastating for vineyards.”

The spotted lantern fly lays its eggs on any flat surface, including stone, wood and metal, which means it has the potential to move throughout the country easily on transports such as semi-trailers, vehicles and railroad cars.

“From my point of view, the spotted lantern fly could show up anywhere in the United States on any given day if it’s laying eggs on metal,” Rice said. “Asian literature says it feeds primarily on grapes, but last summer we found it feeding on soybeans in Pennsylvania in addition to corn and alfalfa.”

The spotted lantern fly was originally thought to contain cathartin, a bitter acid that is harmful to mammals if ingested, especially foraging animals such as cattle and horses.

“The Penn State chemical institute did a lot of tests and found out it does not contain cathartin,” Rice said. “That was really good news, but vineyard owners are still saying that their dogs are getting really sick when they’re eating these. We’re testing further to see if it’s a similar chemical that makes the mammals sick.”

The spotted lantern fly is a slow flyer and doesn’t look like anything native to the United States. If growers and scouts see one in their fields, Rice advises that they put it in alcohol and send him a picture for a definitive ID.

“It was reported in five states last summer, and I’m going to predict this is a freight train that’s coming across the whole United States,” Rice said. “We’re going to have to react quickly when we find it.”

If you suspect soybean gall midge or spotted lantern fly in Missouri, contact Dr. Kevin Rice at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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