Catering to Stink Bugs: A Trap Crop Experiment Success


stink bug nymph smallerEven a toddler who grabs one for the first time knows why they are called stink bugs. The shield-shaped bug releases an unpleasant odor when handled, a natural defense against certain predators. Found in most of the United States, stink bugs are a major agricultural pest in the Southeast. Using needlelike mouth parts, they suck the life out of commercial row crops like cotton, rice and soybeans, as well as vegetables, fruits and nuts. Wilted leaves, deformed plants and damaged fruit can all be symptoms that stink bugs are in the area.

University of Florida entomologist Russell Mizell has a sneaky strategy when it comes to stink bugs. It could be called ‘feeding the hand that bites you’. He has designed a rotating menu of trap crops to lure the voracious insects away from cash crops. The trap cropping system can be customized for any planting season from spring to fall. It is farm-scale neutral and will work for organic or conventional farms.

Mizell used a Southern SARE On-Farm research grant to test a myriad of potential trap crops. He was seeking plants that would provide a steady source of food that is tastier to stinkbugs than the soybeans, peaches, pecans, grains or other crops a farmer might grow. The most desirable trap plants would be unappealing to deer while being attractive to as many stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs as possible. Seeds also would have to be widely available from commercial dealers.

The tests were conducted for two growing seasons at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy. Mizell’s detailed final report reads like a detective novel with a distinct process of elimination. Some plants that showed promise didn’t make the cut because they took too long to mature or didn’t reach preferred height requirements or were difficult to manage.

So what were the most successful trap crops?

For earliest spring protection (March to April in North Florida), fall-planted triticale was found to thrive in the mild Florida winter plus attract a wide variety of stink bugs. Next, buckwheat and sunflower planted in the cool soils of early spring can be ready to lure the bugs when triticale gets past its prime. Additionally, buckwheat can be planted repeatedly throughout the growing season because its early maturation makes it a good relay crop between the other trap crops. For summer-through-fall plantings, sorghum and millet can be added to buckwheat and sunflower.

2/4/2013 2:03:31 PM

Wondering if the stink bugs would be something the chickens would be interested in?

Matt Factor
2/4/2013 9:21:01 AM

Beautiful creatures,but at same time they are very problem creating.squirrel removal fairfield county CT

2/21/2012 5:22:02 PM

@Jerry Smith: I agree. Last year the stink bugs really tore up my (2) sweet 100's and, although they were on the jalapeno plants, left the peppers alone.

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