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War on soybean gall midge continues

Article cover photo
ISA member Adam Bierbaum breaks open a stem checking for the presence of soybean gall midge in his field near Griswold. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) member Adam Bierbaum and his dad Brent suspected a problem in their soybean fields in early July last year.

“We started seeing soybeans die on the edge of the soybean fields. On the outside borders of the fields were strips of wilted soybean plants,” Adam said.

They didn’t know how bad the problem was until they consulted with a variety of agronomists searching for answers.

The Griswold farmers called agronomists at Iowa State University, which ruled out herbicide injury and sudden death syndrome. Splitting open stems, ISU agronomists confirmed plant injury was the result of the soybean gall midge.

“It was a pest we never heard of before, so that was something new for us,” Adam said. “After that it was easier to spot damage when we knew what we were looking for.”

The pest ate its way about 60 feet into the field and took out half the yield of that entire field.

This year, the war on soybean gall midge continues in the state and on the Bierbaum farm.

Confirmations of soybean gall midge were reported in 2011 from Nebraska and in 2015 from South Dakota. In 2016 and 2017, there were isolated reports of soybean injury by soybean gall midge in northwest Iowa. There was significant field edge injury and economic loss in at least 65 counties throughout Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and South Dakota last year.

Since finding the pest in Iowa fields, not much is yet known on the life cycle of the pest or how to control its emergence and spread.

“Despite everybody’s efforts to come up with a strategy to control them, there doesn’t seem to be any silver bullet yet,” said Drew Clemmensen, regional agronomist for ISA. Clemmensen has been working with farmers in western Iowa, an apparent hot spot for soybean gall midge infestations.

Soybean gall midge larvae eat on a soybean stem near Griswold. Neither insecticides nor seed treatments have been effective in controlling the yield-robbing pest. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Tricky pest

Soybean gall midge adults are identifiable by their distinct black banding pattern around their legs. But it’s the eggs the adults lay — eventually larvae — that are doing damage inside the soybean plant stem. Soybean gall midge larvae are clear and turn bright orange as they mature.

“When the larvae hatch, they eat the tissue around the stalk, which essentially stops the movement of nutrients and water to the plant,” Clemmensen said.  

Midges are weak fliers, which means gall midge infestation is slow to spread. However, it’s been difficult to control the adult midges before they lay their eggs.

Field trials

Erin Hodgson, associate professor at Iowa State University and Extension entomologist, has been researching the pest, trying to understand the life cycle.

Hodgson and her team set up adult emergence cages in fields planted to corn last year, suspecting the midges were overwintering in the soil.

“Our findings in the cages validated what we had suspected,” Hodgson said.

The team has discovered that adult emergence was over a 2-week time period, which makes targeting the adults before they lay eggs more difficult.

“In some of the research plots we set up, soybean plants went from looking really good to dead and dying within 10 days,” Hodgson said.

ISA field trials show that wilting plants are a sign that the maggots are moving through to the next row, Clemmensen said.

“By the time you see the symptoms, midges are definitely present,” he said. “If your first row is starting to wilt, larvae have moved on to the next row and are already feeding.”

Attempts to control pest

The Bierbaum family skipped their crop rotation this year, keeping corn on some acres in an attempt to suppress the pest. But the midge flew to nearby soybean fields to feed.

“It started out as a small area and then we saw it more throughout the season. We’re seeing it in fields this year where we didn’t see it last year. Some of that, though, is that we’re better at identifying it,” Bierbaum said.

ISA’s On-Farm Network® team has been working with farmers, including the Bierbaums, to see if seed treatments or insecticides are effective in controlling the pest. So far, neither seem to be effective.

“Insecticides are usually sprayed over the top of plants, so the pest has to be somewhere out in the open where it comes in contact with insecticide. When the adults are emerging out of the ground and are laying eggs on the stem, there’s not a whole lot you can do to get a product in contact with them,” Clemmensen said.

He noted that no insecticides have been labeled for use in controlling soybean gall midge. ISA has been using the insecticides within a research/emergency declaration to research their efficacy.

Working with both ISA and ISU, the Bierbaums have tested a variety of seed treatments and insecticides to investigate responses.

“The trials have been inconclusive so far. It’s difficult to determine the response right now because plants are still dying,” Bierbaum said.

Research ongoing

Hodgson and her team continue to check emergence traps to monitor the spread of the pest. Efficacy evaluations are also ongoing to see how seed treatments and insecticides could prevent injury from the soybean gall midge.

“We haven’t found the magic yet,” Hodgson said. She hopes the information the team gathers this year will help determine a mode of action for future growing seasons.

If you suspect a soybean gall midge infestation, send a photo to Hodgson via Twitter (@erinwhodgson) or email (

Contact Bethany Baratta at

For media inquiries, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at Iowa Soybean Association | 1255 SW Prairie Trail Pkwy | Ankeny | IA | 50023 | US

©2018 Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network®. All rights reserved. On-Farm Network® is a registered trademark of the Iowa Soybean Association, Ankeny, IA.Portions of some On-Farm Network trials are paid for in total or in part by the soybean checkoff.