Spring seeding is off to a good start across the Prairies, but producers are being reminded to monitor the crop closely for weed, disease and insect concerns. 

Dr. Meghan Vankosky, a research scientist with a focus on entamology at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says its important that farmers scout their crops on a regular basis.

Cutworms, wireworms, and flea beetles are among the first insects to watch for, if farmers notice any bare patches in the crop as it emerge, they'll want to investigate what's happening and determine the problem, as it could be a sign of cutworm activity.

Vankosky has been hearing reports of cutworms, adding that they tend to overwinter in the larval stage.

"So those great big caterpillars are pretty obvious in the fields if they're present. That's definitely something to be scouting for early in the season. Cutworms can be active even when it's cool, especially for those species that overwinter as larvae. So they could be there and ready to start feeding already. "

She says there tends to be three different strategies that cutworms will use to feed on their host plant. 

"Some of them are feeding above ground. They might climb the plant and then eat the leaves. Or they might be active closer to the soil surface; maybe climb the lower part of the plant and eat the leaves, but they could also be cutting the stem. So those are kind of the first two feeding types. The third type is the subterranean feeding type. You really never see the larvae above the soil surface. The larvae cut the stems of the plants right at the soil surface and then kind of pull the plant underneath the soil to eat it. What we tend to see as kind of the first sign that there could be cutworm activity in a field is parts of the field where there aren't any seedlings as compared to other areas where the seedling emergence is normal. When we start to see those patches where there's no plant, cutworms could certainly be one of the causes of that damage." 

Cutworms can be attracted to a wide variety of crops, as well as fruits and vegetables, herbs, flowers, grasses, and weeds.

Vankosky says producers will want to identify which cutworm species they are dealing with since the economic threshold and management practices can vary.

Dr. Kevin Floate from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge has developed an excellent cutworm guide that can be found here

A reporting system for cutworms has been set up for farmers in Alberta, as cutworm populations can be difficult to monitor because they are so patchy and can be found one year and not the next.

Alberta farmers that see cutworms in their fields can go to Alberta.ca/cutworm, and follow the link on the page to report cutworm damage and activity.

Vankosky says cutworms are just one of many insects that can pose a problem for producers, adding they are monitoring for other insects and have started to catch a few diamondback moths in phermone traps in southern Alberta.

To hear Glenda-Lee's conversation with Dr Meghan Vankosky click on the link below.