Are we going to see an invasion of insects on our courses this spring?

Leatherjackets and chafer grubs – and the predators who hunt them – caused huge damage to courses all over GB&I two years ago. Could it happen again? They are the tiny pests that can devastate our golf courses. When they aren’t damaging the roots of grass plants on our greens and fairways, they’re attracting predators that can strip the turf like a digger. Two years ago, leatherjackets, along with chafer grubs, caused carnage at courses all over the UK after chemicals that previously kept them in check were largely removed and perfect weather conditions allowed them to flourish. But though the damage was severe, it was by no means a one-off. A 2020 survey from turf experts Syngenta revealed that - of the 400 courses managers who responded - only one per cent of their layouts had reported no damage from the insects. They can make their presence really known just as our club competition seasons get into gear but what’s on the cards for 2023? And is there anything your hard-working greenkeeping teams can do to combat them? We take a look... Leatherjackets are the larvae of the cranefly, while chafer grubs are the larvae of the chafer beetle. Typically, leatherjackets thrive on heavier clay dominated soils and cause damage mainly to greens, while chafer grubs prefer free draining sand dominated surfaces and can cause damage to wide areas of the golf course such as fairways and roughs. Both feed on the roots of the grass plant, meaning the turf can’t take up nutrients and can cause it to weaken or even dieback. The weaker turf and natural food source also makes the turf very vulnerable to damaging bird and animal foraging. What is the situation right now? We asked Glenn Kirby, technical support at Syngenta for Europe, to give us an overview of how the industry is currently seeing the leatherjacket and chafer grub issue this year. He said: “Heat and droughts were at record highs in summer 2022. Droughts may have led to higher mortality rates of the leatherjacket larvae in unirrigated areas.  “This doesn't mean complete reduction - these are insects that have evolved over thousands of years to cope with different climates and survive around the world In many different climates. “But it's highly likely populations are lower this season, and the reported cranefly hatch of Autumn 2022 reflected that, with course managers reporting lower amounts of cranefly sightings than the previous three years.  “They report back through "PestTracker," a Syngenta initiative to help golf course managers improve application timings of our preventative control products.” Chafers are relatively hardy to drought and weaker turf from the summers drought may leave us vulnerable in unirrigated areas and we’re already receiving some reports back from industry confirming this. Kirby also believes the unusual cold snap we saw at the start of December may also have an impact on leather jacket population numbers. He explained: “After the cranefly lay, the milder it is, the healthier the larvae are and more able to survive the colder soil temperatures...
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