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St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

The state's soybean farmers could contend with a new threat in the new year - the red-banded stink bug.

An entomologist at the University of Missouri Delta Research Center recently detected the bugs in three southeast Missouri soybean fields and believes they are making their way up from the Deep South where they've caused yield losses of up to 41 percent in some areas.

"In the Midwest, in the big soybean producing states, farmers have never really had insects to worry about," said Kelly Tindall, a researcher at the center. "If this takes hold, it could have a major effect here."

Tindall heard from fellow entomologists in southern states that the bugs - which are a major pest in Brazil - had been attacking southern fields, so she decided to sweep fields in southern Missouri.

With a big butterfly-net like contraption, Tindall and her colleagues swept 20 fields in five counties, finding three red-banded stink bugs - two bugs in two separate fields in Dunklin County, and two in one field in New Madrid County.

"In the '80s, it showed up on the east coast, in Virginia and Georgia, but it's never taken hold," Tindall explained. "But in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi it's exploded, and in Louisiana it's the No. 1 pest of soybeans. ... we're scared that will happen here."

The bugs have mosquito-like mouth parts that allow them to pierce the soybean seed and suck out the juices. This causes the beans to shrink or become stained, and creates an entry point for pathogens.

"We could lose yield and quality," Tindall said.

Tindall explained that Midwest soybean farmers had another insect-related scare in the early 2000s when aphids seemed poised to destroy crops. But the bugs never did as much damage as entomologists and farmers feared.

They're hoping fears about the red-banded stink bug prove unfounded, too.

"It's kind of a wait-and-see situation," Tindall said. "But it looks like it's going to be a bad pest."

Missouri is the sixth-largest soybean producing state in the country and soybeans are the state's most valuable crop. The state's farmers produced $1.7 billion in soybeans in 2008.

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