- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) - Small plastic cups dot the perimeter of Norris Farms’ expansive blueberry fields. They are homemade traps, hanging from barbed wire in order to catch winged pests with a concoction made of equal parts apple cider vinegar and white wine.

The main target: the spotted wing drosophila - or SWD - a vinegar fly that infests valuable fruit crops. SWD are a relatively new pest to the area, having arrived in the region about six years ago. However, their presence surprised local farmers when their cane berries wilted in vast numbers. When Kruse Farms first encountered SWD a few years back, it found its entire cherry crop raided by the bugs.

“Out in the native world, (the vinegar flies) would have to go out and search for food. Here, you’ve got 50 acres - it’s like dropping a human into a Twinkie pit,” said Evan Kruse, the farm’s manager, who said the farm didn’t sell any cherries that season.

Other farming operations in the county are peppered with similarly homespun SWD traps because this summer could be particularly problematic. The mild winter failed to stave off the pests, and now experts are expecting a 30- to 40 percent population spike. Local farmers are now grappling with methods to keep their fruits bug-free without leaning too heavily on pesticides.

“I want to (spray) as little as possible. It’s dangerous for me, it’s expensive and it takes time,” Kruse said. “But at the end of the day, people aren’t going to buy fruit that’s been ruined by an invasive species.”

The species is native to the Korean Peninsula and Northern China. The bugs likely came into the United States on produce boats via Hawaii, then California, and then into the Pacific Northwest.

Because they have now had a couple of years of experience with the pests, farms have developed a protocol to ensure the harvests aren’t spoiled. Norris Farms strung up 75 of those homespun traps around its blueberry farm and checks them regularly to get an idea of the pest numbers in the area. Farm hands also helped rip out nearby blackberry bushes because they could serve as potential breeding grounds for pests.

“It’s all about being prepared for something. We knew it was a problem elsewhere, so we took steps to prepare and keep the numbers low and manageable,” said Ellie Norris, one of the managers of Norris Farms. She later said, “We haven’t found any in our fruit.”

Norris Farms, being one of the largest blueberry operations in the state, has a number of measures in place to ensure tainted berries don’t make their way to customers. The first step is to trap the bugs. Second, the farm runs the fruit through salt baths that flush out any larva. And third, as a last defense, Norris Farms sprays the crops with pesticides. So far, Norris said, spray has not been needed.

“We’ve been very lucky. This farm kind of lives in a bubble,” she said. She later added, “We don’t like doing sprays, and anything we can do to prevent that we will.”

The warm winter is a multi-pronged problem for crop growers, according to Steve Renquist, who studies plants and insects for the Oregon State University Extension Service. Not only did the mild winter fail to kill off pests, but the warmth also causes fruits to ripen sooner, attracting the pests to farmlands even earlier.

Renquist said the warmth can also be a weapon against the bugs, though. The high temperatures expected in late July and August could sterilize the bugs. They also prefer moisture in the air, so an arid atmosphere in the doldrums of summer could suppress their numbers.

“We’re getting to the point where we have quite a bit of experience dealing with them,” said Renquist.

The most affected farmers will probably be the hobby farmers who don’t have experience with similar pests, Renquist said. His own raspberries ripened and became infected in just the week he was gone visiting his mother in California. Others farmers could see a similar fate, he said.

“Maybe you plant a cherry tree 20 years ago and had 10 years of nice cherries. Then the last few years the cherries have been mushy, then you should get help,” Renquist said.

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The original story can be found on The News-Review’s website: http://bit.ly/1Bzeblo

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Information from: The News-Review, http://www.nrtoday.com

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