"I would classify this as an outbreak": Fall armyworms are giving farmers in south central Missouri problems

OREGON COUNTY, Mo. -- Farmers in south central Missouri have been battling drought and now they're fighting an invasion of armyworms.

For Oregon farmer Jason Kemper, this hay field normally produces 75 round bales of hay each year.

This year he was only able to yield 45.

That's due to an outbreak of armyworms.

"There's actually two species of armyworms that we typically deal with in Missouri. There's the true armyworm that comes in the spring and they typically affect fescue and orchard grass in the cool seasons. This time of year, we get the fall armyworm. In our area they seem to really prefer bermudagrass. I have had a couple of reports this year of them in some fescue fields and have heard of a couple of alfalfa fields, west of here," Agronomist Jamie Gundel told KY3.

He says reports of the pests started coming in around a month ago and only got worse.

Every field he checked had more than three armyworms per square foot.

"This year, just a few scattered reports starting out. I kind of tried to get the word out for everybody to be on the lookout. Then I started hearing reports of some damage and some heavy infestation. I would classify this as an outbreak," Gundel said.

Kemper dealt with the armyworms four or five years ago and knows how devastating they can be.

"I checked early in the morning and peeled the grass back to the ground. We saw between four and six armyworms per square foot," Kemper added.

Early monitoring saved Kemper thousands of dollars in lost production.

"Waiting two days later may have been ten thousand dollars," Kemper exclaimed.

Early monitoring is critical because armyworms have six growth stages and several generations can be in the same field at the same time.

"As they go up through each stage, they start consuming more and more," Gundel said.

Armyworms cannot survive winters in the Ozarks but if temperatures stay warm, you can expect another generation to attack crops.

"Pray for rain. That's what we need right now so we can get a regrowth and hopefully another cutting," Kemper said.