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Stink Bug Invasion Threatens Local Sustainable Farming

PHOTO: Organic farmers are finding few effective weapons for wiping out this year's bumper crop of stink bugs. Photo credit: http://njaes.rutgers.edu/
PHOTO: Organic farmers are finding few effective weapons for wiping out this year's bumper crop of stink bugs. Photo credit: http://njaes.rutgers.edu/
July 24, 2013

HARWOOD, Md. - The stink bug invasion is on, and sustainable, pesticide-free growers such as Blue Tomato Farms in southern Maryland are becoming casualties.

Owner Shawn Sizer said he had to close his community-supported agriculture operation, which provides food deliveries to subscribing members, in part because of the uncontrollable attacks by what are officially known as brown marmorated stink bugs.

"One plant might have 10 to 15 stink bugs on it," he said, "and they were just sucking all the juice out of it."

On his farm, acres of crops - including tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts - were obliterated, Sizer said, and none of the organic pesticides he's used is working. Stink bugs are so named for emitting a strong, distinctive odor as a defense against enemies.

Field scouts are reporting large numbers of stink bugs this year in fruit and vegetable crops, said Virginia Tech entomologist Ames Herbert, adding that there are few organic options for dealing with them.

"It's a numbers game," he said. "They're not that difficult to kill with traditional insecticides, but they just have these huge, huge numbers compared to native species."

A recent study by the U.S. Apple Association estimated that nearly $37 million has been lost by apple growers in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania because of stink bug infestations. An effort is under way in Congress to boost spending on stink bug research.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - MD