Scientists Seeking New Weapon Against Stink Bugs

EMMITSBURG, Md. (AP/WJZ)—The invasion of Asian stink bugs is wreaking havoc on Maryland farms, damaging crops and costing farmers money.

Suzanne Collins is just back from western Maryland where farmers met top scientists to fight this invader. 

Asian stink bugs first appeared on Robert Black’s Catoctin Mountain orchard in 2009, but at the time he thought hail caused bruised apples. Then last fall they were everywhere and 15 percent of his crop was damaged.

“What’s going to happen? What are they going to do? Are they going away? Many thought the winter would kill them but we’re finding out more things. That’s really scary,” Black said.

Scientists tell farmers at a summit on this invasive species they’ve now discovered they can survive in cold storage, so apples kept away for sale through October are likely to be damaged, too.

If you ask Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, a farmer and scientist, the prognosis is bleak.

“This could be a plague of truly biblical proportions,” Bartlett said. “You know if I was a mad scientist splicing genes together to make a really nasty bug I couldn’t do better than this.”

The stink bug invasion is being compared to the destruction done by Japanese beetles. It’s hoped a chemical used to fight this brown marmorated stink bug in its Asian habitat will be approved for use here on fruit, but it won’t happen before fall.

Now the USDA has traps set at six Maryland orchards. The idea is find out how many are out there destroying the Maryland fruit crop.

They are hungry little buggers–not eating just fruit, but berries, grain, soybeans and even corn.

“Some of our farmers are harvesting corn. Last fall that had no kernels on the cob. The stink bug had eaten everything. In its heyday the Japanese beetle was not nearly as bad as this,” Bartlett said.

A wasp that may destroy stink bug eggs is being tested in quarantine in Delaware, but it may take two years to be sure it doesn’t kill good bugs so it can be released. 

Scientists confronting the brown marmorated stink bug hope to get an emergency exemption by August that would allow apple and peach growers to use an insecticide currently banned from orchards. The EPA currently allows the compound only on vegetables, grapes and cotton.

Experts from the U.S. Agriculture Department and Virginia Tech discussed their efforts to curb crop damage during a meeting Friday in Emmitsburg.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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