Farmers have long known the breeze can carry crop-damaging bugs.



Now a new Web site launched by Northern Illinois University in DeKalb tells Midwestern producers which way the wind blows and when pests might be hitching a ride.



The agriculture weather site, located at www.agweather.niu.edu, produces a daily insect migration risk forecast. It was created and is maintained by David Changnon, a professor of meteorology, and Mike Sandstrom, a meteorologist and research associate.



"It's a tool for people who need to know where the bugs are today and where they might be tomorrow," Changnon says. "Farmers and others in the agricultural industry need to know just when insects might be migrating to their fields."



Changnon says the site initially is focused on tracking the location and migration of corn earworm, a major pest of late-season sweet corn. But it may be adapted in the future to track other insect migrations as well.



Corn earworms migrate as moths, carried by winds. Cold fronts and rain prompt the moths to drop to the fields.



The moths eventually lay eggs, which hatch into caterpillars that feed on the tips of ears of corn. Corn crops are susceptible to earworm during the silking phase.



If left uncontrolled, the pests can cause millions of dollars in damage to Midwestern corn crops in a single season.



"An earworm, if you don't get it, will eat about 20 kernels of corn," says Brian Flood, manager of pest management for vegetables for Del Monte Foods, which provided support for the Web site development. "The ag-weather Web site provides a good predictive tool. Agriculture can't be managed with historic weather maps alone. Growers have to be ahead of the game."



The Web site was prompted by research that Changnon and Sandstrom conducted in recent years with Flood.



"Our forecasting can tell the growers not only when and where pesticide treatments are necessary, but also if it is even necessary to spray," Sandstrom says. "If weather conditions are not favorable for insect migration, there's no sense spending the time and money involved with applying pesticides. Brian wanted something that would answer these questions."