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Oh, The Stinkbugs – A Modern-Day Plague Upon the Vinelands?

By BOB STEEVES

A brand new species of stinkin’ stinkbugs are fouling more than the country air these days. These new pests are not the familiar green stink bugs most farmers and gardeners have co-existed with in the past. They are “brown marmorated” stinkbugs and disperse a horribly, lingering, smelly spray (like a skunk) whenever threatened – their defense mechanism.

The fear (near panic) is that they soon will spread from a humble beginning in Allentown, PA, a few years ago to vineyards, orchards, farms and gardens all over the United States. This winter they may in a home near you, or in your home like ladybugs. Apparently, they hitchhiked their way from China to our shores on construction equipment, or perhaps some edibles, and are now thriving and multiplying.

Affected vegetables, fruits, etc., are observed with many noticeable pox marks on skins and surfaces, sometimes decay where they’ve fed, decreasing “fresh fruit” values considerably. Some liken the appearance as what would result from hail damage. The feeding sites on the fruits and vegetables show corky and gummy tissue below the surface. This is where the bugs have inserted their long “beak” (a tube) to deeply pierce through the skin of fruits, veggies and crop plants and suck out food.

For winemakers, in addition to the damaged fruit, is the possibility that some of the bugs will be in the grape bunches and be crushed in the press, fouling the wine must and the wine itself. There are some anecdotal reports of the “stench” being detectable in finished wine, but there are no “threshold” levels for guidance. One farmer with infested corn noted that when the corn was chopped into silage, he feared that the cows would not eat it because of the odor.

The response to this new threat is just beginning. A group of orchardists, vineyard interests, and other farmers convened an ad hoc meeting of officials, extension agents, and stakeholders from VA, PA, WVA, MD, DE, & NJ on Sept. 3 in Thurmont, MD, [within sight of the Presidential Camp David Retreat] to witness the damage and plan a course of action.

The US Dept of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station, had been surveying sites in the region and is now being joined by collaborators in PA, NJ & VA to define the scope of the threat, already known to be critical in some orchards.

Discussions of treatment emphasized the potential damage to existing beneficial insects that could cause unknown additional problems. Moreover, there are no known effective treatments with residual qualities. Speculation was that the nature of the “deep” feeding habit of this bug suggests that it simply bypasses any surface residues that otherwise might be effective.

For now, as the Fall temperatures begin drop, you just might find that you have these bugs as visitors, lots of visitors, in homes and garages waiting with you for Spring.

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