Kudzu, commonly called the "vine that ate the South," has been despised in the region for more than 100 years. Now, soybean farmers there face a new foe with a similar name, the kudzu bug. The pest has spread through much of the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Mid-South.
While kudzu bugs get their name because they feed on kudzu, they have a voracious appetite for soybeans as well. They feed on the plants by inserting piercing mouth parts into the soybean leaves and stems to suck the nutrient-laden sap.
"The more bugs in the crop, the poorer the seed weight of your soybeans," says Jeremy Greene, a Clemson University Extension entomologist.
Researchers first identified the kudzu bug in 2009 in northeast Georgia. They speculate the pest snagged a ride on a plane from its native home in Asia.
Its ability to hitchhike has enabled kudzu bug to develop into a significant economic pest during the past four years in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Average yield loss for untreated soybeans has been estimated at 20% in South Carolina and Georgia. Losses as high as 50% have been reported.
Greene says he wouldn’t be surprised if the pest reaches the Midwest.
"If it can stand the winters, I think it will eventually be up there," he speculates. "It will be interesting to see how far it can go in the colder climates."