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All hands on deck for stink bug solution

By Ike Wilson

Saturday - 3/19/2011, 7:46am  ET

EMMITSBURG -- Up to half of Robert Black's Pink Lady apples at Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Thurmont were damaged by the brown marmorated stink bugs last year.

"This is not your average bug," Black said. "Many people thought winter would kill them. That's not true."

Measures to deal with stink bugs, reported in 33 states and the District of Columbia, are under way on several fronts, a town hall meeting revealed Friday.

Hosted by U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican representing Western Maryland, the meeting at Mount St. Mary's University featured a panel of experts and government scientists.

Black's orchard is being used as a test site for the bugs. Traps were set last year to collect stink bugs and agriculture department scientists performed weekly visual observations to gauge the severity of the problem. Next week, more traps will be set to aid Black's management plan.

"It will help me know when to apply spray and how much to apply," Black said. "We'll have up-to-date information on what chemicals to use."

Though no conclusive remedies were discussed at the forum, several farmers said they left the 21Ú2-hour meeting reassured the government is making stink bugs a priority.

Bartlett said he had predicted this type of stink bug could be a plague of huge proportions.

"This is not a trivial problem," Bartlett said.

Because stink bug injury to fruit sometimes doesn't show up until after the product is packed away and on sale, Bartlett said he tells people they may have to eat produce that is less than perfect until a solution to the stink bug epidemic is found.

"You got to get used to having less than perfect food on the market," Bartlett said.

The insects, which are different from native stink bugs, have become a season-long threat to commercial tree fruit, said Tracey Leskey, a scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. Infection has showed up in apples two months away from harvest, she said.

A prototype of a black pyramid trap developed by the USDA proved more effective at capturing stink bugs than other commercial traps and will be deployed between trees in Maryland and West Virginia as part of a three-part experimental trial, Leskey said.

So far, Dinotefuran seems to be the most suitable insecticide to deal with stink bugs, Virginia Tech Associate Professor Christopher Bergh said. But he said questions remain over how much should be used per acre and the maximum allowance seasonally that the Environmental Protection Agency may approve.

"We don't have field experience," Bergh said. "We don't know how these products will perform in the field.

Bergh said five growers will participate in test programs with insecticides, and he anticipates a solution for growers will be in place by August, depending on the EPA's decision.

Bergh said fruit injury that is not visible until the produce is on the market can pose significant marketing problems for growers.

Alan Dowdy, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said his department doesn't see stink bugs as a pest that can be effectively addressed using regulation.

"This approach includes doing such things as requiring all shipments and modes of transportation be inspected and found free of the stink bugs before leaving a regulated area. There's just no way to effectively enforce such a program without causing additional economic hardship to growers and the public at large," Dowdy said.

Frederick resident Laurie Vaudrevil described herself as "just a mom who had become very frustrated" by stink bugs and tried several remedies, until she stumbled on a water and vinegar mix that works.

"They just fell off the walls and stayed away," Vaudrevil said.

Lisbon farmer Guy Moore said he thought the town hall meeting was wonderful.

"I wish the place was full," Moore said. "I had an opportunity to speak, and I got my questions answered."

Copyright 2011 The Frederick News-Post. All rights reserved.