WASHINGTON D.C. — Last week, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Oakland County) announced bipartisan legislation intended to reduce the spread and advance research on an invasive insect hurting Michigan fruit farmers.
Spotted wing drosophila, often referred to as SWD, are an invasive pest from East Asia that lay eggs in soft-skinned fruit crops, including blueberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries and strawberries.
Since their first detection in the continental U.S. in 2008, SWD have spread throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Utah, North Carolina, South Carolina and the West Coast, causing more than an estimated $700 million in economic loss per year.
This is, in part, because fruit buyers have a zero tolerance policy for SWD on crops — meaning entire loads can be rejected if a single larva is found, according to a statement from Peters. In fighting SWD, farmers must use additional insecticide and pest management, raising costs for an industry already known for razor-thin margins.
The Spotted Wing Abatement Trust (SWAT) Act — introduced by Peters with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana) — would establish a fund managed by the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to advance research and strengthen efforts to reduce the species' population. The fund would be authorized at $6.5 million annually for five years.
“I’ve heard from growers in Michigan how these invasive insects continue to damage blueberries, cherries, and other fruit crops, threatening their livelihoods and ability to sell produce,” Senator Peters wrote in a statement. “That’s why I introduced this much-needed, bipartisan legislation to help mitigate the spread of this invasive pest, lower costs for fruit growers, and prevent these crops from being ruined in the first place.”
Blueberry farmers in Michigan, in particular, have struggled over the past few years.
"One of the main trials for our industry has been the rise of this pest," Trevor Wassink, owner of Tanglewood Winery in Park Township, told The Sentinel in December. "It came about eight years ago and it's forced all blueberry farmers to spray their crops quite a bit more."
That's in addition to labor and supply challenges and overseas competitors.
A response team for SWD is currently led by Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. Experts from the team have said current federal funding levels are simply inadequate for management of the invasive insects.
The bill, introduced in early August, has been read twice and referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
— Contact reporter Cassandra Lybrink at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CassLybrink.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Sen. Gary Peters promotes bill to deal with invasive insect