MU Extension warning farmers about fire ants this summer

Critters could be lurking in some imported hay
Published: Jul. 18, 2023 at 6:01 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - With drought conditions in place again this summer across much of the Ozarks, the hay crop in Missouri has run low again.

It’s something that Tim Schnakenberg, an agronomy field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension in Stone County, has seen many times in recent years.

“2012, 2018, 2020, you just name it,” Schnakenberg said. “There’s been a lot of droughts in the last few years where we’ve had to ship hay from other areas. Sometimes, the hay can come from the southern United States.”

While farmers aren’t banned from importing hay from the southern United States, the University of Missouri Extension cautions farmers about fire ants that could be lurking in the hay. The Fire Ant Quarantine Map from the USDA highlights many counties in the southern and southeastern United States where the ants are currently quarantined.

The University of Missouri considers red imported fire ants an invasive species that came to the state of Alabama from South America during the 1940s. Since the fire ants originated from the Tropics, they can’t survive the cold winters we experience here in the Ozarks. While it’s known that this species can harm humans, the USDA states that the ants can feed off various crops like corn, soybeans, okra, and citrus and even damage young trees. Plus, any young and newborn livestock can be susceptible to venom from a sting or bite. Schnakenberg says farmers can play a vital role in keeping fire ants out of the Ozarks by asking important questions before buying hay to import.

“Farmers should ask the seller where their hay is stored before buying,” Schnakenberg said. “Is it stored in the soil and in direct contact with the soil? If that’s the case, that hay needs to be inspected by the proper authorities in that state before it can be brought into Missouri. If the hay being purchased has been inspected, has been stored on concrete or at a second or third level in storage, everything should be fine to bring in.”

Suppose a farmer proceeds with a purchase and becomes suspicious about a potential infestation, in that case, Schnakenberg has an interesting test that can be done before giving a call to the Extension or USDA officials in the state.

“You can take a piece of a hot dog, Vienna sausage, certain types of cookies like pecan sandies or a card soaked into peanut oil and leave it placed on top of the hay bale for an hour,” Schnakenberg said. “If you’ve got them all over that within an hour, you know that the bail is infested. That’s when you should contact your local University of Missouri Extension office or to the USDA APHIS office in Jefferson City. Those are the folks that monitor these things and will have the proper tools and resources to take care of any possible infestation.”

Given how vicious fire ants can be to humans, livestock, and some agriculture, all farmers and hay suppliers have the tools and resources available to make sure these unwanted critters stay out of the Show Me State and the Ozarks through the rest of the season. MU Extension and USDA APHIS contact information for Missouri and Arkansas can be found in the links below.

University of Missouri Extension

MU Extension Plant Diagnostic Center



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