Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Developing a Possible New Tool in the Fight Against Insect Pests

Kansas State University graduate student Maggie Anderson sets up a sticky trap in a farmer’s soybean field. The insect sampling is part of a research project led by entomologist Tania Kim. Her team counts the insects collected by the sticky cards, along with pitfall and pheromone traps, and runs sweep nets through the fields. Photo: Nicole Kucherov, Kansas State University

By Carol Brown

In order to win a battle, it is crucial to know who the enemy is, where they are, and how to fight them. The insect pest battle in crop fields follows the same principles. Kansas State University entomologist Tania Kim is leading a project in soybean fields to track down perennial and new insect pests and find smarter ways to fight them.

The project, funded by the Kansas Soybean Commission, begins with documenting the distribution of established insect pests. Kim’s team will then use this information to create a landscape model that could predict the likelihood of pest infestation to help farmers better prepare with preventative management.

“Our focus is on the eastern part of Kansas as that’s where most of the soybeans are grown in the state, and we’re trying to sample as many fields as possible,” says Kim. “We’re targeting the key players, including stink bugs and the Dectes stem borer. We’re also looking for a new insect pest, the soybean gall midge, to see if it has made its way into Kansas.”

The soybean gall midge is a fairly new insect in the Midwest, making its presence known in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and South Dakota. It was first found in Nebraska in 2018. Justin McMechan, an entomologist at the University of Nebraska, is leading the effort to learn more and try to mitigate this pest. Kim and her team will take a literal field trip to Nebraska this summer to learn all they can about scouting for and identifying this new species. 

“Dr. Brian McCornack, who is part of this project, and his crew at Kansas State have scouted for the soybean gall midge for three summers. We want to go into a field and actually see what this pest looks like beyond photos and video,” says Kim. “We want to be as proactive as possible in our scouting efforts, so collaborating with the University of Nebraska entomology team will be a positive asset.”

Using sweep nets and sticky cards, the team sampled approximately 50 farmer fields in central and eastern Kansas for Dectes stem borer, Japanese beetles and pod worms. Kim’s team also tested the effectiveness of a new collection method — stink bug pheromone traps. They processed and analyzed their collected samples over the winter. The preliminary results revealed that the pheromone lures are effective, Kim says, as they attracted several stink bug species to the traps.

Entomologist Tania Kim and her team are using stink bug pheromone traps like this one to estimate their population numbers in Kansas soybean fields. She and her team will use counts gathered from this trap as well as others to develop a landscape model to predict insect pest infestation likelihoods. Photo: Brian McCornack

The other major component of Kim’s project is to develop a spatial model to help predict possible insect issues.

“In addition to insect counts, we’re looking at management practices, what the surrounding landscape looks like, as well as the history of a particular field and whether it has been infested before,” explains Kim. “What farmers do in their own fields has implications for successful insect management. But because insects move from field to field, how their neighbors are managing their fields also has an impact.”

To create the models, Kim says they will look for relationships between landscape features, management practices and insect populations. The goal is to identify areas that may be more vulnerable to infestations so farmers know where to be more vigilant in their scouting efforts.

“This can help farmers with pesticide applications,” says Kim. “They can become better informed to know what and where to spray, or whether they can cut back on spraying.”

This coming crop season, Kim and her team will scout the fields again to find whether populations increased or decreased and to look for new pests. And they will continue to watch for the soybean gall midge. In the meantime, Kim plans to survey Kansas farmers to gain their perspectives for insect pest concerns.

“Hopefully, we’ll get information to ensure the insects we’re concerned with are the right ones or whether we need to be on the lookout for different insects,” she says.

After next summer’s insect scouting, Kim plans to develop the processed data into a spatial model by next winter, which will include maps of insect populations and landscapes.

Other Resources:

Soybean Gall Midge Alert Network website:

SRIN information page: Soybean gall midge

SRIN article: Soybean Gall Midge Battle Continues in the Midwest

Published: Mar 20, 2023

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.