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US (MI): Cherry growers fear threat from pest

Scientists have had their eye on spotted wing drosophila since it arrived in the U.S. from Asia in 2008. The bug has quickly spread across the country after wreaking havoc on cherries in California. Now, northern Michigan cherry growers are trying to mobilize against the pest before it’s too late.

The bugs were caught in a trap at the Michigan State University extension lab near Traverse City.

Nikki Rothwell and her team have been collecting and studying them since they first started showing up around here about 2012.

Josh Wunsch is a third-generation fruit grower on Old Mission Peninsula. I talk with him as he’s surveying the orchard in his Ford Ranger pickup.

Wunsch has seen threats to the orchards come and go. But this one has him concerned.

“There were extensive, perhaps millions of pounds of tart cherries on Leelanau Peninsula this summer that were caught late by spotted wing drosophila,” he says. “And so now everybody is somewhat apprehensive about where that goes in another cycle – if it’s going to actually get into the tart cherry trees.”

So far, the annual infestation of SWD has been happening after cherry harvest in July, so there haven’t been any major losses yet.

But this year, the MSU team found the bugs showing up in June, well before the beginning of the harvest.

They’ve put out traps to try to slow down the advance, but Wunsch says it hasn’t had much effect.

He says insecticides haven’t worked, either.

“If we want to spend a few public dollars on something, maybe we ought to be sending some researchers into Asia, where this thing came from, and find out what controls this thing,” he says.

Peter Shearer is leading studies on spotted wing drosophila at Oregon State University.

“We’re looking at little tiny wasps that attack the fly and kill it,” he says.

Shearer has several different types of imported Asian wasps in a special quarantine facility at the university. The idea is to see if one of them has an appetite for spotted wing drosophila.

Shearer says the idea of introducing a non-native wasp to control the fruit fly is controversial.

But nothing else has really worked.

He says the only thing that seems to make a dent on the population is a really cold winter, and this winter is expected to be a mild one.

While scientists hunt for solutions, Shearer says growers might have to change the way they harvest. And they’re going to have to work together.

Source: michiganradio.org/

Publication date: 11/20/2015


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