Government officials and grower-shippers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are mapping plans to take on a pest before it threatens some of the state’s berry and orchard crops.
The drosophila suzukii, also known as the vinegar fruit fly, was first discovered in a small Salem area peach orchard in late August, said Bruce Pokarnoy, director of communications for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
“This pest has no affinity for the rotting fruit that the normal fruit fly would go after,” he said. “The female pierces the skin of the fruit and lays her eggs.”
The state agency immediately began assembling a taskforce to deal with the pest, Pokarnoy said. Represented on the taskforce are industry members, researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Agricultural Research Service and from Oregon State University.
“We need to find out what types of management techniques and tools there might be to control this thing next year if it breaks out again,” Pokarnoy said.
There is the chance the drosophila flies could over-winter in Oregon, he said, because the pest is native to some of the coldest regions of Japan.
Among the steps the taskforce has taken was to meet with nearly 200 grower-shippers the week of Sept. 21. As of Sept. 24, there were no confirmed reports of finds outside of the Willamette Valley, Pokarnoy said. There had been an unconfirmed report of a find in far eastern Oregon, he said.
There have been no reports the pest has been spotted in the Columbia River gorge, Oregon’s primary apple and pear growing region. With the exception of the apples and pears, harvesting of most of Oregon’s fruit crops is winding down for the season.
A major concern for grower-shippers is blackberries are among the favorite hosts for the fruit fly, and wild blackberries are common throughout western Oregon.
Before the 2010 season, the state Department of Agriculture hopes it will be able to make recommendations to growers on the various steps they may take to protect their crops, Pokarnoy said. The taskforce is considering, among other actions, pheromone sprays that disrupt the pest’s mating.
“Researchers are itching to get their hands on this fly and to see how it can be controlled or eradicated,” he said.
The problem is finding the funding to support the research.
“The industry is going to have to step forward and determine just how it wants to proceed,” Pokarnoy said.
The Oregon infestation marks the second time this year a drosophila fly has been found on the West Coast. A similar fly was discovered in May in cherry orchards in coastal counties of central California.
The pest has apparently not migrated into neighboring Washington, at least not in large numbers.
“There’s been a single insect find in the Seattle area,” said Mike Willett, technical issues manager for the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash. “There have been no reports of drosophilae having been found in the Yakima and Wenatchee areas.”
Those are the state’s largest cherry, apple and pear growing regions.
Because there is no history of the fruit fly in the northwest, Willett said growers and researchers have more questions about the pest than they have answers. Whether the drosophila will threaten the state’s crops in the future is one of those unanswered questions.
“But it’s premature to assume the pest is the newest, most serious insect to arrive in the northwest,” Willett said.