Often considered the number one alfalfa pest in the United States, potato leafhopper (Empoasca fabae) can cause significant loss in forage and protein yields throughout the Midwest and eastern United States. The potato leafhopper overwinters in the Gulf States of the U.S. and migrates northward with storm patterns in the spring. Potato leafhopper are extremely small (1/8 inch long), wedge-shaped, bright green in color and most active in dry conditions and temperatures of 53 to 93 degrees.
With ideal conditions, 50 or 60 potato leafhoppers can produce from 500 to 1,000 offspring within a five-week period. The insects pierce the alfalfa leaf vein and stop nutrients from flowing to the rest of the leaf causing a V-shape, or hopperburn, to develop. Subsequently, nutrient values are diminished and alfalfa yield is lowered.
Technology to Defend against Potato Leafhopper
Forage Genetics International was the first company to pursue and patent alfalfa technology with resistance to potato leafhopper. Potato leafhopper resistant varieties provide growers a higher economic threshold for damage and greater control over their spraying programs.
Today, NEXGROW® varieties with resistance to potato leafhopper combine greater than 83 percent potato leafhopper resistance with excellent agronomic performance. Varieties like 6475H possess excellent potato leafhopper resistance, along with outstanding winterhardiness.
Alfalfa growers should sample fields throughout the summer on a weekly schedule throughout the entire season. It is unwise to wait until the damage appears before making a decision to manage this insect.