Have you visited your vegetable field lately and come back disappointed because you were met with wilted, drooping plants? You are not alone. Recently, we have had an uptick in reports of maggot damage in vegetable crops. The insect culprits in question are most likely either onion maggot, seedcorn maggot or cabbage maggot. These maggots are very similar, and even belong to the same fly genus, Delia. These cream-colored maggots are small (0.5-1.5 cm) and have between 3-5 generations per year. These fly species will overwinter as pupae in the soil and emerge as adult the following year to find suitable host plants. Maggot will feed on seedlings and either kill the plant before it can successfully mature or injure the plant, thus giving entry to soil pathogens (secondary infections). This past season, you may have noticed more damage from maggots than normal. And that’s not surprising; maggot damage is typically greater in cool, wet seasons and in fields with high organic soil types.
There are some differences between these species that may point to one being the cause over another. Onion maggots love alliums, and are most problematic in onion, garlic, and leek. Cabbage maggot has an affinity for brassica crops including cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and turnips. Seed corn maggots love just about everything and can be found in as many as 40 different plant hosts. Notable crop hosts for seed corn maggot include soybeans, corn, beans, peas, cucumber, melon, pepper, potato, and even onion. As a general rule, seedcorn maggots typically damage the seed, whereas onion/cabbage maggots often feed on seedling roots.
The bad news is that if you are facing maggot damage there is little you can do to “rescue” your planting. Your best bet is to wait it out and replant if possible. You can drench with Diazinon (Diazinon AG500), but this product won’t ultimately save you from the damage that has already been afflicted. If you decide to use this product, make sure you use enough water. Diazinon doesn’t move easily through the soil and is best applied with adequate water.
Avoid “chasing” adult flies. You may see adult flies (figure 1) in your field but using foliar insecticides to kill adult flies is not an effective option for any species. Keep in mind the damage is in the soil, so make sure you target your management decisions to strategies that will protect the below-ground tissues of the plant (I.e., seed treatments or in-furrow applications at planting/transplanting).
If you are dealing with maggot damage on your farm, consider some of the options below.
- Prevention is key. If you know you have a history of either seed corn maggot or onion maggot, make sure you take action by preventing an infestation before it starts.
- Rotate your crop. Flies will show up when they know food is available. So do your best to confuse the flies by rotating your crops, especially alliums and brassicas. If you want to limit future infestations, consider planting a non-host crop to decrease the likelihood of subsequent maggot problems. If you are rotating your crop to a non-host, make sure you rogue out any volunteers from the previous year. (Maggots love volunteers!)
- Use a seed treatment (Table 1). Insecticide treated seed is one of the most effective tactics to manage maggot populations. A number of efficacious products are available including thiamethoxam+ spinosad (FarMore FI500), cyromazine (TRIGARD), and clothianidin and imidacloprid (SEPRESTO) for many vegetable seeds (table 1). Rotate products between years so you are not exposing multiple generations to the same active ingredient. For example, if you are using FarMore in year 1, rotate to a different seed treatment like Trigard or Sepresto in year 2. WHY DOES THIS MATTER? Reports from the Northeast and MidAtlantic suggest that some maggot populations may become resistant to these seed treatments.
Table 1: seed treatment options to manage maggot infestations in vegetables. Please note that efficacy of these products may differ based on maggot infestation and/or soil type. Product OMRI listed? Active ingredient Relative control of maggot IRAC codes FarMore FI500 No. thiamethoxam+ spinosad Excellent. 4A, 5 Trigard OMC No. cyromazine Excellent. 17 Sepresto 75 WS No. clothianidin+ imidacloprid Good. 4A, 4A Regard SC Yes. spinosad Excellent/Good. 5
- Exclude flies from the crop. One viable management approach is to keep female flies from finding your crop. You can isolate your crop either in space (row cover) or time (degree day modeling).
- Consider using row covering over your susceptible crops to stop adult oviposition (egg-laying). Multiple studies have found that this is a highly effective method at limiting damage.
- Avoid maggot damage altogether by planting later in the season to bypass peak infestation. Maggots have predictable phenological patterns, and you can use degree day models to accurately predict times in the season when maggot risk is high. The first peak of seedcorn maggot occurs earliest in the season when 200 degree days has been accumulated, followed by cabbage maggot (250 degree days) and then onion maggot (250-300 degree days).
- Monitor, monitor, monitor. While there is little you can do to manage maggot infestations within the immediate growing season, it’s important to identify problem areas so you can plan accordingly for the following year.
- The best way to tell if you have Delia maggots on your farm is to scout early and often. Fields with poor plant emergence or wilted seedlings (figure 1, video) should be inspected for maggot damage. Make sure you cull any infested plants.