Early this week, Pennsylvania Ag Secretary George Greig issued a precautionary release, urging farmers who purchase hay and straw from counties in southern states areas under quarantine for fire ants to take precautions. "Drought conditions across much of the nation have centered the fall hay market in the southern United States," noted Greig.
More than 343 million acres are quarantined in southeastern United States, much of Texas, southern Oklahoma, all of Dona Ana County in New Mexico, all of Orange County and parts of Los Angeles and Riverside counties in California, and all of Puerto Rico.
When placing an order for hay or straw, first determine if the supplier is within the quarantine area. The hay or straw must be certified for movement by that state from which it is shipped if it is located in a quarantined area.
Do a bale check upon arrival
When bales are delivered, visually inspect them for evidence of fire ants. Fire ants are very aggressive and swarm to defend the colony and queen. Fire ant venom causes painful skin welts and, in rare cases, death to humans and animals.
These ants look similar to a common house or garden ant, but have a copper brown head and body with a darker abdomen.
Though they may not survive freezing temperatures, fire ants can cause damage to crops in a short time. The ants feed on the buds and fruits of numerous crop plants, especially corn and soybeans, and can girdle young trees.
The aggressive insects infested much of the southern and southwestern United States after being accidently introduced in the early 20th century through soil used as ballast in cargo ships. With warmer winters, this is an insect you don't want populating your farm next spring.