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US (NC): Researchers kick up a stink with new bug project

North Carolina State University (NC State) has won a $3.7 million USDA grant to find sustainable control options for the invasive brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). Their work is set to benefit specialty crop growers throughout the country.

Now that BMSB has been detected in 43 states and is adapting to new climates, more needs to be done to manage the pest from a national perspective, says NC State Extension Entomologist, Jim Walgenbach, principle investigator in the project.

The grant is sponsored by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crops Research Initiative Program, and includes the cooperation of scientists from 16 land grant universities across the country, as well as the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

BMSB garnered attention in 2010 after it decimated many crops in the mid-Atlantic, most notably apples and peaches. The value of crops most susceptible to BMSB — namely tree fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grapes — is estimated to be over more than $23 billion.

In response to the 2010 infestation, Tracy Leskey of USDA-ARS and George Hamilton of Rutgers University invited entomologists and other experts in the Mid-Atlantic region to form a new working group, funded by the Northeastern IPM Center.

In 2011 members of the Mid-Atlantic working group, along with others concerned about the pest’s spread, collaborated on a USDA NIFA specialty crop grant to study the pest’s biology in that region and develop short-term mitigation strategies to prevent severe crop losses. The research resulted in the identification and recommendation of several types of insecticides to control the pest.

While the chemical tools helped “stop the bleeding,” Walgenbach says the sole reliance on insecticides is not sustainable for the long term. Most of the insecticides being used are broad-spectrum pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, which have eliminated natural enemies of other pests that growers don’t typically have to worry about.

The problem is most apparent in apples, where predators and parasites play an important role in biological control of several important secondary pests. The consequences of spraying for BMSB has led to increased problems with mites, woolly apple aphid, and San Jose scale.

Some tree fruit growers increased their post-bloom sprays from 5 to 15 applications per year after BMSB appeared. Experts are concerned that if the current spray schedule continues, growers could be facing insecticide-resistant stink bugs.

The recent USDA NIFA grant will seek out natural enemies that can keep the BMSB within threshold population levels that won’t cause significant damage.

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