Corn rootworm is a persistent and economically important pest in Iowa, with yield loss caused primarily by larval feeding on corn roots. Genetically modified corn with Bt traits kills western and northern rootworm larvae, and Bt-rootworm corn has been available since 2003. However, some Iowa farmers have observed severe root injury to Bt hybrids in continuous cornfields, and there has been documented resistance of western corn rootworm in Iowa to Cry3Bb1 corn and mCry3A corn since 2009 and 2011, respectively.
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In some areas, extended diapause by northern corn rootworms caused root injury to first-year corn. To date, there have not been any cases of Bt resistance by northern corn rootworm to any traits. Normal and extended diapause variants of northern corn rootworm do not lay eggs in soybean.
All cornfields in Iowa are at risk for infestation by corn rootworm and should be evaluated annually. Because it is difficult to predict larval injury based on adult abundance the previous season, farmers in Iowa should manage larval rootworm if they are growing corn following corn. We highly encourage farmers to assess the efficacy of their larval corn root management by evaluating root injury on the 0-3 node-injury scale. Learn more about the scale here. The economic injury level for larval rootworm feeding typically ranges between 0.25 and 0.5 nodes, and will depend on environmental conditions (e.g., drought), commodity prices and management costs. In general, every node of roots lost to larval rootworm feeding results in a 15% to 17% reduction in yield. Farmers should adjust their management approaches to keep larval feeding injury below the economic injury level. The US EPA uses the classification of greater-than-expected injury when root injury exceeds 1 node to single-trait Bt corn and 0.5 nodes to pyramided Bt corn. When greater-than-expected injury occurs it is reasonable to suspect that resistance may be present but only follow-up laboratory or field experiments can confirm the presence of resistance.
The last two summers had below-average corn rootworm populations due to extremely wet spring conditions. Expect rebounding numbers of western and northern corn rootworm if this spring has more moderate temperature and moisture conditions during May and June. Although resistance to all four Bt rootworm traits has been confirmed for western corn rootworm in Iowa, resistance to Cry34/35Ab1 appears to be incomplete and limited in geographic scope. However, cases of Bt resistance demonstrate the potential vulnerability of Bt corn for rootworm management and highlights the importance of using a diversified approach when managing rootworm. Farmers should develop a long-term integrated pest management approach for corn rootworm. Consider the following tactics when developing a rootworm management plan:
Adult management requires intensive sampling and a well-timed application of foliar insecticides. In general, this is not a cost-effective management option for corn rootworm.
Source: Erin Hodgson, Iowa State University Extension
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