Imported ﬁre ants can harm agriculture and injure animals and people with their painful stings and venom. These invasive pests can move to new, non-infested areas by hitchhiking on agricultural commodities, including baled hay. To prevent that from happening, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has established quarantine areas where we know imported fire ant colonies exist.
While some hay produced in these areas is prohibited from moving outside of the quarantine zone, most hay can move without restriction. This factsheet offers some simple steps that hay growers and suppliers inside an imported ﬁre ant quarantine area can take to ensure their product moves quickly and easily to where it’s needed by farmers and livestock.
Q. What is the quarantine zone for imported ﬁre ant?
A. Most of the southeastern United States is currently under quarantine. In addition, most of Texas, southern Oklahoma, all of Dona Ana County in New Mexico, all of Orange County and parts of Los Angeles and Riverside counties in California, and all of Puerto Rico are under quarantine. To determine whether you are in a quarantine area, visit USDA’s imported fire ant Web site at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant-health/ifa and click the “Imported Fire Ant Quarantine Interactive Map” link.
Q. What kind of hay is regulated in these areas for imported ﬁre ant?
A. In quarantine areas, USDA regulates only baled hay and baled straw that are stored in direct contact with the ground because they pose a risk for harboring imported ﬁre ants.
This hay may move anywhere within the quarantine area.
Q. Under what conditions can baled hay leave the quarantine area WITHOUT restrictions?
A. Baled hay that meets any of the requirements below is not regulated and has no movement restrictions:
Q. Under what conditions can baled hay leave the quarantine area WITH restrictions?
A. Hay or straw from inside the quarantine area that is stored in direct contact with the ground may move outside the quarantine area provided it has been inspected, found free of imported ﬁre ant, and travels with a certiﬁcate or permit issued by the State department of agriculture or local USDA office. You can ﬁnd contact information for State departments of agriculture on the National Plant Board’s Web site at http://nationalplantboard.org/membership For local USDA offices, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/planthealth/sphd
Q. What hay cannot leave the quarantine area?
A. Any hay that contains soil OR does not pass inspection may not leave the quarantine area.
Q. What are some best management practices for baled hay storage that reduce the chance of ﬁre ants infesting the hay?
A. The best management approach is to reduce or eliminate ﬁre ants on the property annually. Your local Extension specialist can provide guidance on how to accomplish this. To ﬁnd contact information for your local Extension office, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov/LGU-map In addition, the following storage practices can help reduce the risk of moving infested hay and straw:
Before the hay leaves the quarantine area, the shipper should place food that typically attracts ants (such as a cooked hot dog, crumbled cookies or peanut butter) on a card close to the loaded bales on the trailer and then check for ants after an hour or so.
Q. What should buyers do when purchasing hay produced within a quarantine area?
A. When placing the order, determine if the supplier is within the quarantine area for the imported ﬁre ant. To do so, visit USDA’s imported fire ant Web site at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant-health/ifa and click the “Imported Fire Ant Quarantine Interactive Map” link. Also, ask the supplier to ensure the hay is free of ﬁre ants, and visually inspect the hay bales when they are delivered to you. If possible, request that the hay be certiﬁed for movement by the State from which it is shipped.
If you ﬁnd any fire ants, contact your State department of agriculture or local Extension office. You can ﬁnd contact information for State departments of agriculture on the National Plant Board’s Web site at http://nationalplantboard.org/membership For local Extension offices, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov/LGU-map
Q. What threat does the imported ﬁre ant pose to agriculture?
A. These ants will feed on the buds and fruits of numerous crop plants, especially corn, soybean, okra, and citrus. They can also girdle young trees. Large nests located in ﬁelds interfere with and damage equipment during cultivation and harvesting. Imported ﬁre ants respond rapidly and aggressively to disturbances, and ant attacks inhibit ﬁeld-worker activities. A single ﬁre ant can sting its target repeatedly. Young and newborn animals are especially susceptible to the venom of these stings.
For more information on imported ﬁre ants and APHIS’ regulations, please visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant-health/ifa