Commercial hemp production has taken off in the Southeast. A key takeaway from the different production sites in Georgia and Alabama in 2020 was the alarming number of ant problems reported on production.
“A lot of times it was fire ants, but it wasn’t exclusively fire ants. There were some other types of ants as well,” said Tim Coolong, associate professor in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“It was actually a significant issue. It was somewhat sporadic because some people didn’t have any problems with it. But in other fields, people were losing 10% to 15% of their plants, if not more.”
Problem in Alabama As Well
It was a similar problem that was reported in Alabama hemp. Katelyn Kesheimer, Auburn University Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, said last June, “What I’m seeing now is they’ll kill a plant and just move to the next one pretty quickly. You can see this pattern as they move their mounds. They make these mounds around the base of the plant as they’re feeding.”
The ants were especially detrimental to plants that were young and vulnerable.
“They actually feed on the plant. I don’t know if they’re actually consuming that or chewing part of the stem off to use for material in the anthill or ant colony, rather,” Coolong said. “They’ll actually chew into the stem and girdle it and actually put little holes into the stem.
“Because there’s many insecticides labeled for hemp, when we are growing other crops that may have received insecticide applications at planting or prior to planting, ants aren’t an issue in many cases. Either that plant or the land around it is treated already. But in hemp that’s not an option in many cases. Therefore, it’s certainly more noteworthy.”
Baits may be the best source of management for producers gearing up for the 2021 season.
“While the baits themselves are not labeled for hemp production, if those baits are placed outside your production area and then therefore that crop is not coming in contact with them, that would not be an off-labeled use,” Coolong said. “That’s probably the best bet for growers.”