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Associated Press

BILLINGS (AP) - Farmers mulling spring planting options now have something else to keep in mind - a potential for cutworms munching their crops.

Entomologists at Montana State University say a dry spring, following the relatively tame autumn and winter, could mean more cutworm larvae in fields than many farmers have seen recently. Cutworms not detected early could cause severe damage to crops such as winter wheat, small grains, or even canola and sunflowers. They did, in some parts of Montana last year, says entomology professor Greg Johnson.

More than a dozen counties are considered at high risk after traps last fall captured at least 200 moths, an indicator of possible problems with pale western cutworms come spring, he said. Many counties do not have trap sites.

"It looks like we'll have a banner year," Johnson said, noting the fall moth counts and the possibility that there will not be cool, wet spring conditions.

Big Horn County Agent Kirk Barnette said it's important for farmers to know of the potential for problems so they can plan ahead.

Many of the eggs laid during a mild fall survive through winter if the gentle conditions hold. Larvae can hatch early when the spring is warm, and dry conditions favor survival in crops, Johnson says.

Problems with cutworms were reported last year within the area called the "Golden Triangle" and in parts of east and central Montana, he said.

Johson said growers should find out if cutworms have been a problem in their area, and that farmers should be vigilant in checking their fields for signs of cutworms.

Glacier County Agent Darren Crawford said cutworms devastated some fields in the area last year.

"With the proper monitoring, we can get a handle on it, mostly with insecticides," he said. However, chemicals are an extra cost many farmers would rather avoid.

"But when you have a serious problem, you have to spray or they'll take your crop. Early detection," he said, "is paramount."

The counties considered high risk include: Big Horn, Carbon, Chouteau, Custer, Daniels, Gallatin, Glacier, Hill, Jefferson, Judith Basin, Liberty, Madison, Musselshell, Phillips, Pondera and Roosevelt.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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