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Fly Threatens New England Blueberry Crop

By Todd Gutner, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – Plump juicy blueberries are a summer tradition here in New England, but this year, the crop is facing a severe threat.

A new pest is showing up here on the East Coast.

Last summer, the Drosophila Suzukii fly first showed up at Dole Orchards in Limington, Maine. This fruit fly is known for its spotted wings and its love of berries.

When asked if he had ever experienced a threat of this magnitude on his farm, Earl Bunting said, “No, It’s something new that everyone is learning to deal with. We don’t know what it is going to mean.”

Jim Dill, Ph.D, is a pest management specialist with the University of Maine in Orono who is tracking the pest’s movements. He assembles traps with vinegar, sticky tape, and red plastic cups to determine if even one fly has infested an area.

This spotted wing fly is so dangerous to the crop because it goes after fruit that is still ripening, not rotted fruit.

It also has a special tool which allows it to work with greater efficiency, according to Dill. “It can saw into ripening fruit, so instead of overripe fruit, this particular insect will start in the process early on in the process of the fruit as its ripening, lay its eggs, and then the maggots develop inside the ripening fruit.”

Other soft skinned fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries, are also vulnerable.

The Drosophila Suzukii fly was first detected in the United States just four years ago in California. One theory is it took advantage of strong winds to make its cross country journey so quickly.

Specifically, it might have hitched a ride with Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Lee.

“A good gust of wind could very easily knock them 10-20 feet away, and if they actually get up in the wind currents, they might be able to travel miles,” explained Dill.

As the spring growing season gets underway, Earl will be keeping his eyes on the traps as the buds pop. He ponders his only remedy, pesticides, which he doesn’t like and which adds cost.

It will take the presence of just one tiny fly in a one of those red cups for him to know he has a big problem.

“This is new. This is unchartered territory I guess,” said Bunting.

The consequences could be severe. Maine harvested 80 million pounds of blueberries last year. That crop was worth almost $200 million.

The spotted wing fly isn’t just a problem in Maine. Scientists also found this fruit fly in Massachusetts, and will be monitoring fields here to see if it comes back.

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