Despite having three new insecticides with new chemistries registered, alfalfa seed growers still have a problem pest that’s eating away their profits, says Mark Wagoner. Wagoner is a Touchet, WA, alfalfa seed grower who’s working to find research dollars to fight lygus bugs.

“Lygus bugs are the biggest pests to alfalfa seed growers in the whole Western U.S.,” says Wagoner, president of the Washington Alfalfa Seed Commission. “We’re really having a hard time controlling the bugs. I think they’re getting resistant to the older chemicals and the newer ones really haven’t proved to be as great as we thought they were going to be.”

Wagoner’s group, as a part of the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA), is seeking research dollars from USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In May, Wagoner was part of a NAFA delegation visiting USDA and EPA officials, informing them that lygus bugs are greatly affecting alfalfa seed production. Wagoner says he lost 15-20% of his seed crop to the bugs last year.

“One thing that makes lygus bugs hard to control is that we have our pollinating bees out in the field the same time the bugs are attacking us. So we can’t put anything on to control the lygus bugs that would harm the bees. And we’ve used integrated pest management for 30 years.

“I told EPA that what we really need is some research money to hire some new people to do research on parasites and predators and all these biological control programs. And how these new chemicals we got registered would fit with parasites and predators.”

NAFA is working with other associations whose crops also host the lygus bug to form a coalition. The coalition would ask for research funds to study the bug and find ways to control it, says Beth Nelson, NAFA president.

“Quite a number of researchers are working on this already,” Nelson says. The coalition would work to identify them and help get their expertise pulled together, she adds.

A coalition strategy meeting is being planned for this August, Wagoner says. Nelson hopes to develop a $1.5 million grant proposal that can be submitted to USDA.