By Clint Thompson
Hemp producers in the Southeast need to be mindful of fire ants. They will damage the stems of hemp plants if not treated, said Katelyn Kesheimer, Auburn University Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook with fire ant problems the last seven days, really. A couple of weeks ago, we had all of those storms that came through; a lot of rain and temperatures are increasing. We started seeing fire ant swarms about two weeks ago. All of those swarms led to newly mated females that became queens that started mounds and now are chewing on the stems of hemp,” Kesheimer said. “It’s very quick because these seedlings are no more than 20 centimeters tall in some instances. They’re just a couple of inches, not that big. The fire ants make a mound at the base of the plant and start stripping the bark and tunneling through the stem.
“I don’t even know if I was onboard with hemp this time last year, but this just seems kind of early for fire ant problems in hemp. I was caught off guard with how many issues we were having.”
Growers have already started planting this year’s crop. Fortunately, there are management practices growers can implement to control fire ant issues. But they need to do them.
“I’ve been recommending people get out there and bait because that’s going to take at least a couple of weeks but also do individual mound treatments. We have some products approved for hemp by the Department of Ag. I think a lot of growers did not heed my warning to put out bait in the fall,” Kesheimer said.