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Fire Ant Control Strategy for Pastures and Hay Fields Using Drones

Introduction

In South Carolina, fire ant infestations are a significant challenge, but can be effectively controlled in pastures and hay fields using drones. Fire ants thrive in warm climates and have aggressively colonized pastures and hay fields across the state. They disrupt operations, effects foraging behavior, and can even kill young animals like calves. This article discusses options for control.


The Problem with Fire Ants in Pastures

Fire ants are particularly problematic in pastures and grazing operations for several reasons. Their aggressive behavior and painful stings pose a direct threat to livestock, potentially causing injuries and stress among animals. This stress can disrupt grazing behavior and lead to decreased milk production in dairy cows and poor weight gain in beef cattle. Their presence can also lead to poor soil health, as they disrupt the natural ecosystem and affect other beneficial insect populations. The cumulative effect of these issues can lead to economic losses for farmers and ranchers.


Galen P. Austin looked into how fire ant infestation affects cattle behavior in Texas pastures in his 2003 study at Texas Tech University. Utilizing GPS technology to monitor movements, the research showed that fire ant presence can significantly alter grazing patterns and area utilization by cattle. This shift is particularly notable in pastures that were heavily infested, where cattle might avoid certain areas, potentially affecting their nutrition intake and overall well-being due to the stress and physical discomfort caused by ant bites.


Austin, G. P. (2003). Investigations of cattle grazing behavior and effects of the red imported fire ant. Texas Tech University. Retrieved from [URL]


Insecticide Choices

When selecting a product for fire ant control in pastures, it's important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of the available options. Direct control with contact kill insecticides applied directly to mounds is an option, but it is very labor intensive for large areas. The most common treatment type for pastures are bait products.


Extinguish Plus is a bait that is approved for pastures that stands out due to its dual-action formula. One active ingredient acts quickly, killing ants within days of ingestion, making it one of the faster baits on the market. The second active ingredient disrupts the ants' lifecycle by preventing the maturation of new ants, providing long-term control of the colony with less risk of a re-infestation from neighboring areas.


For effective fire ant control, the timing and rate of application are crucial. Generally, baits should be applied in late spring or early summer when ant activity is high, ensuring maximum uptake of the bait. The specific application rates can vary depending on the product, but typically range from 1 to 1.5 pounds per acre for granular baits like Extinguish Plus. It's essential to follow label directions.


Application Using Drones

Applications of Extinguish Plus are more accurate and effective when carried out by drones, like the DJI Agras T40. The T-40 features GPS-guided application to guarantee consistent coverage and a spreading function that allows precise rate control. Drones are a great tool for applying fire ant bait because of how quickly they can cover large areas . Because fire ant baits are applied at relatively low rates, the drone can cover 30-50 acres per hour . In large agricultural areas, using drones for fire ant control can be the most cost-effective option.



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