Murder hornets. What? Farmers may not have to worry about getting stung by giant hornets, but the insect could cause damage to crops this summer. As the world entered quarantine, news came out that the Asian giant hornet had been spotted in parts of the U.S. and Canada. Labeled ‘murder hornets’ for their deadly stings, the creatures raised concern across the country.
To be clear, you shouldn’t worry about getting stung. As the Penn State Extension explains, the hornets generally have no interest in humans. However, that doesn’t mean farmers should ignore the insects. The giant hornet’s main target is the American honeybee, which could mean devastation for grain crops.
Now granted, the “big” grain crops like wheat, oats and barley are self-pollinated, so a giant hornet means nothing to those farmers. The same goes for rye and corn, as their pollen is carried on the wind. But things are different for other crops. Soybeans, sorghum, oilseed, canola, sunflower and linseed, as well as flax and linola all benefit from honeybee pollination.
We’ve already seen examples of what happens to grain crops when pollination declines. For example, the yellow-legged hornet invaded Europe in 2004, arriving from Asia in bonsai tree shipments. However, nothing was done to eradicate the insect, which also hunts honeybees. From 2004 to 2019, Europe’s honey production dropped by two-thirds and with limited pollination, production of the grain crops I mentioned before also dropped.
What Do We Know about Giant Hornets?
Asian giant hornets usually hibernate during the winter and emerge in spring, according to the Penn State Extension. Typically, they come out in late April and start hunting for targets. This is a large insect, measuring 1.5 inches. By comparison, honeybees are 0.5 inches long. They’re difficult to find in most cases, as giant hornets tend to nest in the ground in wooded areas. They find abandoned rodent burrows to use, typically around tree roots.
This is a yearly project, as each winter, the hornets move on from their current nest and search for a new one. Extension officials say a group of about 30 of these hornets can kill up to 25,000 honeybees in one day.
First a scout is sent out to identify a honeybee hive. Then within a day, that scout returns with the rest of its group. They kill and then eat all of the honeybees inside, which takes an average of 90 minutes.
Now this is the only point at which humans could be at risk, Extension officials say. The hornets take over a beehive after killing the honeybees inside and then defend it as their own. So, if you try to knock it down and drive them out, you run the risk of getting stung. In other words, respect their space and they’ll respect yours. If there are dead honeybees scattered on the ground around a beehive, chances are the hive contains giant hornets now.
Suspect Murder Hornets on Your Farm?
Normally this is where I would offer a solution. For normal hornets, you douse the nest with pesticide, toss a canvas bag over it and yank it out by the roots. Or there’s the tried-and-true method of soaking a wooden pole in gasoline, lighting it and using the fire to try and burn the hornets out. The problem is that the sting from one of these hornets is seven times stronger than a regular bee. Because it’s that toxic, extension officials ask farmers to make note of where they find the hornets and then reach out.
Extension officials will then track the hornets back to their hives through a method of live trapping, tagging, and release. Now is the best time to do this, before the hornets have a chance to damage the local honeybee population. It’s also worth pointing out there is currently a very small population of Asian giant hornets in the U.S. In fact, there’s a chance what you saw wasn’t actually a giant hornet. To be on the safe side, however, extension agents can make that identification.
A Reliable Plan to Combat External Forces
Now I bring up the hornets both to answer a question and to highlight the need for planning. Whether it’s a virus, a trade war, or an insect invasion, external factors can impact grain prices and supplies. That’s why it’s critical to make sure your grain is stored properly. If insects damage this year’s crop, you’ll need stored grain to sell. To make that happen, you have to constantly monitor the product.
Temperature cables are the most reliable and efficient way to protect stored grain. They monitor entire grain bins and can send that data to a computer server. Just pull up a smartphone and you can read data from today, last week or last month to help identify trends and problems. Knowing your stored grain is market ready when you need it to be is a relief.
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