An appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives last week would require that the Department of Agriculture make the fight against brown marmorated stink bugs a priority, said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.)
Provisions in the fiscal 2012 spending bill direct the four research agencies of the USDA to identify and develop methods to control the stink bug population, according to a statement from Wolf’s office.
The bill also instructs the USDA to work with state partners to help control stink bug invasions, the statement says.
Wolf said the House Appropriations Committee thought that the USDA was not working aggressively enough to find a solution to the stink bug problem, which is a threat to agricultural communities.
“I’ve seen firsthand the damage that stink bugs are causing to local fruit and vegetable growers, and we have to do something to mitigate the economic damage caused by these pests,” said Wolf, expressing hope that the bill, which the House passed Friday and referred to the Senate, “will make this problem the top priority for USDA research agencies.”
With peak stink bug season predicted in August and September, the pests are an increasing concern for homeowners and growers.
Last year, the bugs inflicted significant damage on crops of apples, peaches, grapes, soybeans and other fruits and vegetables in Loudoun County — and the sight of the insects crawling over windows and walls in homes sent residents to hardware stores for pest-control products that often did little to help.
The rising number of the brown beetles is especially alarming for Loudoun’s commercial growers, many of whom attended a forum in April hosted by Wolf that addressed concerns about the rising stink bug population and its impact on Loudoun’s economy.
Though it’s still fairly early in the season, stink bugs — which feast on more than 300 types of host plants — have already made their presence known to local growers.
Doug Fabbioli, a vintner and owner of Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, said he has seen the newest generation of stink bugs on his property.
“I’ve never seen baby stink bugs before,” he said. “I’m not excited about it. But they are there.”
Although the young insects might nibble at his vines, Fabbioli said the real damage comes later, when the peak stink bug population coincides with the harvest of ripe fruit.
Last year, Fabbioli bought fruit from a Loudoun vineyard that was hit harder by the infestation, he said. Along with the occasional green stem, the vineyard’s employees plucked stink bugs from among the crushed fruit.
“We were able to manage it, but it certainly was an added expense,” Fabbioli said.
It’s difficult to determine the amount of losses due to stink bugs, but experts said that the mid-Atlantic region suffered about $37 million in losses last year solely as a result of damage to apple crops. Local organic farmers were also hit particularly hard.
Christopher Bergh, a Virginia Tech associate professor of entomology, and Tracey Leskey, a research entomologist with the USDA, spoke at the April forum and noted that homeowners can best protect their homes by sealing cracks and crevices where stink bugs might enter.
Bergh also recommended that residents look for insecticides that contain permethrin, which can be used to treat exterior surfaces and appears to be effective at killing the insects.