Dr. M. O. Way and Dr. Thomas A. (Gene) Reagan have no formal war training, but like generals on a battlefield of rice and sugarcane, they do their best to delay the advance of a silent enemy that’s slowly working its way east across Texas and now threatens Louisiana rice and sugarcane crops with the potential for annual losses of more than $250 million.

Way, Professor of Entomology, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Beaumont, and Reagan, Austin C. Thompson Endowed Professor of Entomology, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, have teamed up to develop a strategy for limiting the growing threat of stem borers, including the recent introduction of the Mexican rice borer (MRB), a pest that has historically damaged sugarcane crops in South Texas and continues to pose a significant problem for Gulf Coast rice farmers in Texas and western Louisiana.

Recently the two hosted a field research site visit at the Texas AgriLife Research Center in Beaumont for Texas and Louisiana sugarcane and rice consultants, agricultural Extension agents, and industry cooperators. The field day was designed to share the results of 11 years of comprehensive research and strategies developed to prosecute the fight against the deadly pest. Entomologists warn the aggressive Mexican rice borer also poses a serious threat to other commercial crops like corn and sorghum.

“This particular pest nearly destroyed the Rio Grande Valley sugar crop back in the 80s and worked its way up the Texas coastline to invade Southeast Texas and now is into five Louisiana parishes, and it’s finding suitable feeding grounds on a number of commercial crops including sugarcane, rice, corn, and sorghum, as well as native grasses,” says Reagan. “The Mexican rice borer is the most destructive insect pest of sugarcane in North America and has the potential of causing as much as a 50 percent yield loss in Texas rice fields.”