A new invasive insect has devastated northeastern berry crops, and growers are working with Cornell University plant experts to develop strategies to fight it.
Binghamton apple grower Dave Johnson tells The Ithaca Journal (http://ithacajr.nl/1nPmhK8 ) that the Asian spotted wing fruit fly arrived on the West Coast in 2010 and spread eastward so fast that growers didn't have time to come up with a battle plan.
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Watkins Glen apple grower Rick Reisinger said, "It was pretty shocking. At first, I just thought it was drought."
In just two growing seasons, the fly has put at risk $325 million worth of small fruit in New York. Statewide, Cornell University estimated the damage to commercial berry growers at $7 million in 2012.
Cornell's Integrated Pest Management program recently received a $170,000 grant to hire field technicians and provide growers with information on controlling the invasive insects.
Some growers are using netting over their crops to keep the fruit flies off, but others say that method is too expensive. Insecticide sprays are being tested with limited success. Cornell also is working with growers to set up trap-and-kill stations, which lure the pests to a screened area where they're destroyed.
The most effective safeguards are labor intensive: regularly watering the plants, washing the berries thoroughly and picking the fruit just as it ripens and refrigerating immediately.
Cornell's Peter Jentsch said growers also can use raspberry bushes as a line of defense, treating them with safe insecticides to prevent early infestation and keep the insects from migrating to nearby blueberry bushes as the season progresses.
Information from: The Ithaca Journal, http://www.theithacajournal.com