Seed corn maggot: A thorn in farmers’ sides

Seed corn maggot research
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 7:00 AM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Farmers across the world deal with a pest called a seed corn maggot, but there are limited options for avoiding it.

Cornell Cooperative Extension is working to change that.

“Seed corn maggot is a fly,” field crop and livestock specialist Ken Wise said. “It looks like a housefly but it’s its own species. It lays eggs in decomposing material, high organic materials, manure fields, and what they do is feed on decaying material, but also on seeds. So, as you put corn seed in the ground, or soybeans, as they start to soften and germinate, they will eat it and it definitely weakens the plant.”

The little pupa are a big thorn in the side of farmers. Currently, the only way to avoid the seed corn maggot is with insecticide.

“But we’re looking at alternatives, so an integrative approach is when you use multiple tactics,” Wise said, and at Cornell we’re doing research on these tactics.”

Cornell has several teams working on different projects. One looks at treatments for the seeds, another is exploring traps for the flies.

A big project, though, is discovering why they choose certain fields over others. How do cover crops affect their attraction? What time of year are they most active? What crops are most often targeted?

“There is what we call a degree-day model where you look at the number of heat units and when that insect will emerge,” Wise said. “They worked on 80 farms last summer to try and fine-tune that.”

These research teams are already yielding results and there’s more to come. For now, the seed corn maggot isn’t a detriment to farms but is certainly something to address before it does become an issue.