Corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea (Boddie), is apolyphagous noctuid pest of agricultural crops across the United States that is gaining attention as a pest of field corn. Before the introduction of transgenic insect-resistant hybrids, this pest was largely ignored in field corn, but now many Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn hybrids have activity against corn earworm. However, the value of control in the northeastern United States is unclear because the risk posed by corn earworm to field corn has not been well characterized. To understand the threat from corn earworm and the value of Bt hybrids in field corn, we assessed corn earworm injury in Bt and non-Bt hybrids at 16 sites across four maturity zones throughout Pennsylvania in 2010, and 10 sites in 2011. We also used corn earworm captures from the PestWatch pheromone trapping network to relate moth activity to larval damage in field corn. Corn earworm damage was less than one kernel per ear at 21 of 26 sites over both years, and the percentage of ears damaged was generally <15%, much lower than in the southern United States where damage can be up to 30 kernels per ear. At sites with the highest damage levels, Bt hybrids suppressed corn earworm damage relative to non-Bt hybrids, but we found no differences among Bt traits. Cumulative moth captures through July effectively predicted damage at the end of the season. Currently, the additional benefit of corn earworm control provided by Bt hybrids is typically less than US$4.00/ha in northeastern field corn.
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Vol. 106 • No. 3