USDA Researchers And Extension Tackling Unprecedented Pest Threat

USDA Researchers And Extension Tackling Unprecedented Pest Threat

Brown marmorated stink bug to continue its northward march in 2012. Vulnerable crops in 33 states exceeds $21 billion in value.

Two summers ago, the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) burst into the Mid-Atlantic, causing catastrophic damage. Some growers of sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, apples, and peaches were reporting total losses.

Tracey Leskey, USDA/Agricultural Research Service entomologist at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in West Virginia, sounded the alarm, and quickly convened a regional task force funded by the Northeastern IPM Center. None too soon.

DON'T LET DOWN YOUR GUARD: July's hot, dry weather during July likely scorched young brown marmorated stink bugs during molt. But the risks of crop damage in 2012 will remain high, says Galen Dively, University of Maryland entomologist.

Since then, the pest has hitchhiked to Florida and the West Coast where it whetted its appetite for oranges as well. The BMSB working group expanded with USDA awarding $5.7 million to 10 institutions across the country for research and education to help growers cope.

By this summer, the stink bug had hitchhiked to New York State."Organic peppers were badly injured on a Hudson Valley farm," says Peter Jentsch, a Cornell University researcher. Indeed, organic growers have a hard row to hoe. No organically approved pesticides keep BMSB at bay. Traps and lures, beneficials and biopesticides could be several years from deployment.

The BMSB working group met in late November to share lessons. "We're looking at every angle to fight this thing," says Leskey. The value of susceptible crops in the 33 states where BMSB has been established or sighted exceeds $21 billion, says Tracy Leskey, the USDA entomologist at the project's helm.

Last year, the pest cost apple growers alone $37 million. BMSB has a huge host range, hitting field crops, ornamentals and woodland trees, feeding on about 300 species altogether.

Leskey's team have uncovered some stink bug remedies, such as traps and pesticides that work. But the 51 researchers are exploring better management practices as well – lures, biopesticides and natural enemies that kill BMSB. The Northeastern IPM Center is coordinating efforts to put solutions in the hands of growers who need them.

Near-term, growers will need sprays, according to University of Maryland entomologist Galen Dively. But he warns, "You can kill 90% of them. The next day, you might have just as many." They move in waves from woods to fields and orchards.

If the magnitude of damage was less in 2011, it was likely due to July's record heat and drought. Young BMSB molt five times before adulthood and are vulnerable to drying and dying right after they've shed their skins. "I think it scorched them," adds Dively.

Better solutions still needed

Broad-spectrum sprays, such as pyrethroids, have helped reduce damage. But as

Henry Chiles of Crown Orchard in Virginia says, "Now, we've destroyed our IPM program that we've worked so hard to establish and maintain."

A letter from the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council echoed the same concerns: Pyrethroids also "lead to increased mite populations and other secondary pests, creating the need for more pesticides. This means that our IPM programs are at risk and pesticide use and associated costs will increase."

In West Virginia, Clarissa Mathews, entomologist and environmental sciences professor at Shepherd College is also co-owner of Redbud Organic Farm. She's experimenting with movable cages for tomato and pepper crops. The cages are made of PVC pipes and screening – "sort of like mini hoop-houses," she says. But they're still unproven."

The BMSB working group includes: ARS/Appalachian Fruit Research Station, University of Maryland, Rutgers University, Cornell, Virginia Tech, Pennsylvania State, Oregon State, North Carolina State, University of Delaware, and Washington State University.

For the latest on BMSB, visit NortheastIPM.org .
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