NEKOMA, N.D. — There was something comically Machiavellian about the scene during a crop visit with the Waslaski men at a farm field near Nekoma in northeast North Dakota.

Smoke could be seen for miles — billowing up, the blades from wind electric generation turbines spinning in the background. The father and son duo explained that they’d been scouting a new canola crop field for flea beetle pests and realized that obsolete tree lot they’d grubbed out four years ago could be burned without any impact on neighbors or motorists.

But their first focus was on the ground and those flea beetles.

A new scout

Waslaski Farms has about 6,500 acres. Kevin, 57, farms together with a brother, Roger, 54, and one son, Gavin, 30, and then Logan, 21, who will be a senior in agricultural economics and minor in crop and weed sciences. Logan will graduate in December 2019 and plans a career in insurance or ag lending, but with an ability to stay involved in the family farm.

The Waslaskis have about 2,800 acres of canola this year. “We’re pretty steady on acres, pretty consistent,” Kevin said. “It’s part of the rotation. We follow the rotation every third year, or pretty close.”

With the cold spring, the Waslaskis held off planting canola for a little later than usual.

Seedlings started emerging in late May and the plants at the first “two-leaf” stage are vulnerable for flea beetle damage.

“We’ve gotta kind of keep an eye on them,” Kevin said. “It’ll chew up the plant. If the plants are small enough, it’ll eat it completely.” It was the first time for Logan to scout for the flea beetles.

Kevin notes that canola seed comes with a seed treatment against the beetles, but that’s only good for about 20 days. Some producers had sprayed some of the earlier planted canola, but not the Waslaskis this year. Their later-planted canola was holding its own because it’s growing fast enough to stay ahead of the bug pressure.

Iridescent black

Janet Knodel, North Dakota State University Extension entomologist, on May 9 started warning that flea beetles — mainly striped flea beetles (scientific name Phyllotreta striolata) were being captured early in pheromone traps at NDSU’s Langdon Research Extension Center. The beetles are small — 1/32 to ⅛ inch long with two yellow stripes on their backs and their black wing covers.

But the Waslaskis were seeing the more common crucifer flea beetle (Phyllotreta cruciferae Goez) beetles on June 3, for which the seed treatment is more effective. The crucifer beetles have an iridescent blue sheen on the wing covers. They’re called flea beetles because they have enlarged rear legs that allow them to jump to escape.

“You can visually see how much chewing has been done on the plant,” he said, noting there is no counting. So far, damage was minimal. “We have some field borders we’re going to spray, but no complete fields,” Kevin said.

He said crops in general looked pretty good in the region.