Tomato Growers Watch Out for Insects

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Tomato planting is currently underway across the Southeast. It is never too early to start thinking about insect pests that could hinder fall production in Alabama.

According to the Tomato Insect Pests 101 video, Ayanava Majumdar, Auburn Extension Professor in Entomology and Plant Pathology, cautions growers to scout their tomato fields every week for pests and look for insects over and under the leaves and also at the plant base.

Tomato plants have five growth stages during the production season: seedling, vegetative, flowering, fruit formation and mature fruiting.

“Seedling and fruiting stages are most vulnerable to insect attack,” Majumdar said. “They must be protected.”

What to Watch for?

Early season insect pests include flea beetles, thrips and aphids. Flea beetles’ ability to chew small round holes across the leaves can lead to death for small tomato plants.  Thrips have piercing-sucking mouthparts and can transmit viruses when feeding. Aphids suck plant sap and produce honeydew resulting in sooty-mold fungus.

Specific insects, such as the brown stink bug and leaffooted bug, can cause quality losses. Stink bugs have piercing-sucking mouth parts. Its feeding causes extensive fruit discoloration. These are often unmarketable and can rot fast in storage. Leaffooted bugs have leaf-like expansion on their hind legs. They aggregate in large numbers on fruits.

Caterpillars can cause holes on tomatoes. Beet armyworms, fall armyworms, yellowstriped armyworms, southern armyworms, fruitworms, hornworms and loopers are pests to watch out for. Fruitworms make round holes with the head tucked inside the fruit. Hornworms feed on the leaves, stems or entire fruit. Loopers are often late-season pests in Alabama.

Majumdar implores farmers to apply pest management tactics. This includes: plant and harvest your crop in a timely fashion; use pest exclusion fabric or netting early to stop moths and stink bugs; and use conventional or organic insecticides if needed.