USDA adds another Oklahoma county to quarantine list

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - There are now 21 counties across the state named under a USDA quarantine list for hay sellers due to fire ants.

In southwest Oklahoma the counties under quarantine include Comanche, Stephens, Jefferson, Cotton, Tillman, and Jackson.

Counties have been quarantined for a number of years, and Pittsburg County was the last to be added.

Tom Royer with the Oklahoma State Extension Office said this restricts farmers from selling hay that has been laying directly on a surface that allows water to flow through, that could expose it to fire ants.

They can still sell hay under certain circumstances.

“If the hay is cut, baled, or loaded and it’s shipped without being stored first. That can be shipped, sold, and moved. If it’s baled and it’s stored on an impervious surface it has to be highly compressed soil or some people just refer to it as hardpan where ants can’t establish their nest there,” Royer said.

Comanche County Farmer Josh Sullivan grows and sells his own hay. The quarantine limits his clientele in some parts of the state.

“The biggest problem is transporting north because more of our northern counties are not in quarantine, but the farther south we go the more availability it is to ship our products. As long as we ship from a quarantined county to a quarantined county it’s not really a big issue,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said making sure you store hay correctly makes the difference in dealing with fire ants, as he’s dealt with some in the past.

“I have had USDA come and do inspections before when we were going to go to a fire ant, non-quarantine county, and we had some traps set out, poison some, found some, but we were able to ship some of the hay not all of it,” Sullivan.

According to Royer, there are no real ways to get rid of them, but you can manage them.

He had some advice for farmers who may experience the problem in the future.

“And what they do is put bate out in a wide area where they want to reduce the fire ant numbers. That bate is laced with a slow-acting insecticide that the ants will carry the bate back to their nest and feed their young ones and feed the queen, and then you can reduce colonies there,” Royer said.

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