Fruit farmers on guard for new pest
DURHAM — Though the threat from a new brand of fruit fly is largely past for this year, growers who produce berries, peaches, grapes and even some kinds of tomatoes are wary of the damage the invasive pest may do next year.
The spotted wing drosophila, a tiny fly that can take a big bite of orchards and gardens, has gradually been making its way across the country from the West Coast and has discovered the summer bounty in the Granite State is much to its liking, according to Dr. Alan Eaton, an entomologist with the University of New Hampshire.
Eaton said the fly is originally from China and Japan and made its way, possibly by ship, to Hawaii. From there, the fly with tiny spots on its wings began a cross-country trek, wiping out orchards and berry crops as it went.
George Hamilton of the UNH Cooperative Extension was the first to discover the fly in the Granite State in 2011.
"We've had one complete summer season with these critters," said Eaton, "and now we're trying to help growers make good decisions to defend their crops."
To ward off an infestation of the flies, growers across New Hampshire have installed traps to catch the flies in order to monitor their numbers and prepare for possible infestation. If the flies show up around the time the fruit ripens, the farmers have to immediately spray to kill them off, Eaton said. There are both standard and organic remedies available, he said, but spraying is vital to saving crops.
"We've had a few growers who weren't listening to us and their entire crops were wiped out," said Eaton.
In addition to spraying, Eaton said growers can mitigate the infestation by cleaning up dropped or rotten fruit — a challenge on a big berry field or in a sizeable orchard where peaches, plums and cherries grow. Apples don't appear to be appetizing to the fly.
"It's a lot of extra work for growers," said Eaton, "but cleaning up dropped fruit seems to slow them down quite a bit."
Heidi Bartlett of Bartlett's Berry Farm in Newport said the flies haven't made an appearance yet and the growing season is over for most of her crops except late raspberries.
"We're monitoring and checking our traps regularly," said Bartlett, "and if we have to spray, we have to spray. It's frustrating because though we're not an organic farm, we prefer not to use pesticides if we don't have to.
Every grower now has the fruit fly on their mind, and some growers have simply given up on certain crops.
"We took out our (family's) row of raspberries so they're not an attractant," she said.
At home, Eaton suggests that people refrigerate their picked fruit so the flies don't invade.
He also recommends ridding properties of plants like poke weed (known to many as ink berry because of their juicy dark purple fruit).
And Bartlett recommends that people wash their fruit thoroughly before enjoying it in case farmers have had to spray.