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Written by D. Bruce Bosley, CSU Extension Agent/Cropping Systems   

New wheat insect pest found in Colorado

The wheat stem sawfly, long considered a severe pest of wheat in Montana and North Dakota, has now been found infesting wheat along Highway 14 in Weld County in 2010. In the last three decades, it has become more abundant on winter wheat and spread into southeastern Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle. Colorado wheat growers should familiarize themselves with the sawfly’s life cycle, damage and available management options.

The sawfly is the number one wheat pest in Montana, causing over $25 million in losses each year. While it is unknown how important this pest will become in Colorado, it is important to be aware of and to monitor the situation.

The wheat stem sawfly emerges in May when field temperatures exceed 50 F. The females are active for two to three weeks, placing egg singly in stems, just below the topmost node. Larvae develop in the stems and gradually work their way downwards, eating stem tissues as they go.

When the stems begin to desiccate, the larvae cut a V-shaped notch around the interior of the stem just above the crown and seal the stem just below the notch, creating a chamber where they remain until the following spring. The stem often breaks at this notch, which leads to the lodging losses.

Effective chemical controls are not available; however, there are several cultural controls that have proven effective at reducing, but not eliminating, infestations. Tilling wheat fields after the harvest in the fall to loosen the stems and the soil around them maximizes exposure to adverse winter temperatures.

Spring tillage buries the stubble and makes it difficult for adults to emerge. However, the advantages of controlling the sawfly with tillage are far outweighed by the benefits of reduced tillage. Trap crops of other cereal grains, such as oats, barley and rye, planted between the wheat crop and adjacent stubble, also have been used.

These crops are attractive sites for egg-laying but are not adequate for sawfly development. Planting wheat in larger blocks as opposed to narrow strips is another cultural practice that may reduce sawfly damage potential. This minimizes the amount of field border adjacent to stubble, which is the part of the crop most vulnerable to infestation.

Using solid-stemmed winter wheat cultivars is perhaps the most effective control. In areas where the sawfly is a recent arrival, wheat breeding programs are beginning to focus on incorporation of the solid stem characteristic into adapted varieties, using both conventional selection and linked DNA markers. The program at Colorado State University also is initiating long term research into novel methods for making the wheat plant less attractive to the sawfly.

If producers observe damage or suspect the presence of wheat stem sawfly in fields, contact an Extension agent or Frank Peairs at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 970-491-5945.

For more information on this pest, including more detailed control options, visit the High Plains IPM Guide at

Now is the time to make the decision to treat grasshoppers depending on their threat levels. The State of Colorado has cost share funds for treating grasshoppers in rangeland and crop margin areas in Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick and Yuma counties. Contact Fred Raish, Yuma County Pest District supervisor, for information at 970-848-2509.

Contact Bruce Bosley for questions on this and other cropping systems topics at 970-768-6449 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Holyoke Enterprise June 30, 2011