Flint on Crops: The Dog Days of Summer Are Here

    Like most of you probably I have heard “older folks” talk about the Dog Days of summer most of my life but I had no idea of why this time of the year was referred to by that term. My general idea was that during this time of year every day seemed to drag on forever like a lazy old dog. 

    I associated this time of year with dry weather when farmers all talked about how bad they needed rain for crops and pastures. A more direct issue for me was that the fish almost stopped biting and there were more snakes along the creek banks where I spent a lot of time. These days were filled with the constant buzz of insects, the call of bobwhite quail and nights of sleeping outside where a cool breeze could be felt.

    Little did I know that there really was a basis for the term Dog Days. It came from the name of the Dog Star Sirius in the constellation Canis Major which aligns with the sun each year at this time. Since it is a very bright star people once thought that the combination of this star and the sun made the weather hotter. Of course this is probably not true since it is almost nine light years  from our Earth.

    Those of us who work with crops associate this time of year with the arrival or at least the appearance of more insects and more diseases in crops. This is often the time of year when soil moisture may get short as it has this year in many parts of the state. It is the time of year when some crops begin to approach maturity. The corn harvest sometimes begins during this period as it has this year in areas where fields were planted early.

    The heat of recent weeks has of course accelerated the maturation of corn, grain sorghum, and rice which are driven by heat unit accumulation. I expect this earlier harvest is welcomed by many producers since it will allow them to get started a little earlier than usual.

    This has been a challenging season in some ways and not in others. Cotton insects have been fairly light in most of the area I serve with high levels of benefical insects in most fields to help control many of the pests. Applications have been made for plant bugs and aphids as needed, but larval pests have reached threshold levels in only a few areas so far.

    Soybean management has been a little different, with relatively light disease pressure. The three-cornered alfalfa hopper has likely been the most abundant pest so far but a few fields have developed very high levels of kudzu bugs. This pest is beginning to be dealt with by nature in a similar way as aphids in cotton. A grower called me a few days ago to say that he was seeing small white structures on the stems of his soybeans.

    A visit to the field revealed that a fungus was attacking the kudzu bugs, turning them into small white fungal puffs. We need more of this fungus and less of some of the others. A few soybean fields are showing spots of aerial web blight and growers need to scout their fields for this very destructive fungal disease. It can be managed, but an application of fungicide will be needed in some situations.

    The other big issue is that of sugarcane aphids in sorghum fields. Some fields have developed high populations of this pest while others have only developed low to moderate levels. So far most treatments have performed well while a few have not. This remains one of our most destructive pests and one that is very difficult to deal with.

    Another thing about the Dog Days of summer is that dogs seem to sleep a lot during this time. Maybe they are smarter than us humans after all.


    Thanks for your time.

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