Georgia peanut growers need to scout their fields this week for tobacco budworm. Infestations of this pest have been on the rise in peanut over the last fourteen days, and it does not take a lot of budworm caterpillars to cause significant defoliation when the crop is less than 50 days after emergence. We do not need to panic, and we do not need to automatically add an insecticide to our herbicide or fungicide applications. We need to scout EVERY field and determine if budworms are present and if the population is large enough to warrant treatment. There has been a lot of field to field variability in pressure, and most of the reports of injury have come from the south-central and southwest portions of the state.
Knowing when to treat caterpillars in young peanuts can be tricky. The standard 4 to 8 caterpillars per row foot is not really applicable this early in the season as that many insects per foot will likely result in complete defoliation. Research has shown that defoliation in the first 40 days after emergence has very little impact on peanut yield. While that is reassuring, I would not gamble on an early season tobacco budworm infestation.
There are no “cheap” options for controlling tobacco budworm in peanut. Growers need to know that pyrethroids will not kill this pest. Consult the University of Georgia Pest management Handbook or your local University of Georgia County Extension Agent for management options.