Mar 3, 2011
Pennsylvania apple growers take on stink bugs

The Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board announced that it is taking an aggressive stand against the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) by funding a critical early field research program. The Board approved $50,000 to fund a two-year research project for BMSB management in commercial orchards through the entomology program at the Pennsylvania State University’s Fruit Research and Extension Center, in Biglerville, Pa.

“As the BMSB population continues to increase in our state, so does the devastation that they bring to our apple crops,” said Karin Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program. “We need to start combating this problem now to help our growers minimize future crop loss.”

The Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board has also joined forces with the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania’s research committee to fund three additional BMSB research projects totaling more than $54,000. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has allocated $50,000 for a separate research project. Pennsylvania is the fourth largest apple producing state in the country.

According to Mark W. Seetin, Director of Regulatory and Industry Affairs for the U.S. Apple Association, the BMSB is an invasive species that is widely adaptable. Its presence has been confirmed in 32 states, with the Mid-Atlantic States feeling the greatest impact. And because the number of plants on which the BMSB can feed is so great, there is a tremendous challenge in developing control strategies.

The timing of the funding is critical for the field research. While more than 50 of the country’s scientists at state and federal research institutions have joined together to seek a $9.6 million research competitive grant under the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), those funds, if granted, will not be available until October 2011.

“The money that Pennsylvania’s growers are dedicating to this problem allows them to begin BMSB research immediately,” said Seetin. “They have started to look for ways to control the BMSB in the short-term, and continue the research effort long-term by studying the species’ biology and life cycle.”

Prior to this winter, limited research had been done on the BMSB. However, it is estimated that 10-20 percent of Pennsylvania’s 2010 fruit crop was affected due to this pest. When the infestation began last summer on a larger scale, Greg Krawczyk, an Extension Tree Fruit Entomologist with Penn State University, did two short-term field projects to evaluate the effect the BMSB was having on the apple and peach crop. Now, as the problem continues to grow, the focus has to turn to studying and understanding the biology and nature of the insect in hopes of creating a long-term solution. But the short term management options in orchards still need to be evaluated and that’s why this research funding is so important.

“The problem is here and it will be here for the foreseeable future; it will not just disappear,” said Krawczyk, who is conducting the research. “Without the funding from the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board, as well as the State Horticultural Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, we could not do what we are doing in the laboratory and field. I cannot stress enough how important their support is and how appreciative I am to have this support from Pennsylvania’s growers.”

Unlike other stink bug species that are indigenous to Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic region, the BMSB, does not have an effective native natural predator(s). The BSMB overwinters in houses, barns and old structures, and in the spring they move to the fields and other vegetation to reproduce; they are constantly in motion. Also, there is no definitively set timeframe for reproduction – it begins sometime in May and continues through mid-October depending on weather and food sources. Put these factors all together and this creates a pest that is extremely hard to control. In addition, the BSMB is able to feed and develop on more than 300 different plants – making this a problem for the entire agricultural community, as well as homeowners.

“The Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board is a very forward-thinking group,” said Krawczyk. “To my knowledge, no other state is funding BMSB research, at least not to the scale comparable to the support I’m receiving from Pennsylvania’s growers.”

His immediate research will focus on possible management options while still trying to understand the biology and behavior of the BMSB in hopes of finding the ways to manage them by preventing or deterring the BMSB from even entering the fields or orchards.

According to Krawczyk, the BMSB poses many questions that he and other scientists’ research hopefully can help answer: “We’re hoping to learn many things, such as, what factors tell the stink bug to move from one place to another? What impact does the surrounding vegetation have on their migration from one orchard to the next? Is there a way to control the population when they are at the first few rows of vegetation – before they reach the center of the orchard?”

And while the research has begun, it will take time before any concrete information is known and can be applied. In the meantime, Dr. Krawczyk is working in the lab evaluating currently available products that can be recommended to the growers for the best possible management for this year’s crop. It’s a temporary stop for a growing problem, but as more researchers and scientists across the country begin to bring attention to the BMSB, Krawczyk is optimistic that within a few years, a longer-term solution may be found and utilized.

To learn more about Pennsylvania apples, click here. By The Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program





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