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For Virginia farmers, close encounters of the worst kind as stink bugs invade

For Virginia farmers, close encounters of the worst kind as stink bugs invade

It seems like there’s always something new in soybean insects.

Last year, the kudzu bug, a pest that was discovered in Georgia in 2009, made its way into a number of Southeast states. This year it’s the brown marmorated stink bug or BMSB that is beginning to get the headlines.

Virginia Tech entomologists reported finding the pest in soybean fields in 41 counties for the first time. The 41 counties represent over half the major soybean growing counties in the state. They also found kudzu bugs in the state for the first time.

“I personally do not recall seeing this many first-time-evers in one season,” says Ames Herbert, Virginia Extension entomologist. “I feel like we are in an insect pest war zone, now confronted by two relatively new pest species — BMSBs moving down from the north, and kudzu bugs moving rapidly up from the south.”

The BMSB is a native of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. After apparently being accidentally introduced into the U.S. in eastern Pennsylvania, it has become a serious pest of fruit, vegetable and row crops in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In 2010, its feeding caused severe losses in apple and peach orchards, and it has been found feeding on blackberries, sweet corn, field corn and soybeans in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, including now, Virginia.

In 2011, entomologists found one kudzu bug nymph in kudzu late in the season in only one county bordering Carolina. This year they found the first adults and by mid-season, adults were observed in soybean fields in 19 counties.

“We also have found the first kudzu bug nymphs in soybeans, and, for the first time, we found both kudzu bugs and BMSBs in the same soybean fields in eight different counties,” says Herbert.

As a result, the Virginia Extension Service has ramped up its statewide surveillance efforts to include three field scouts, one located in the Suffolk area (southeast), one in the mid-central part of the state, and one in the north central area.

The expanded efforts have been made possible by assistance from the Virginia Soybean Board, the United Soybean Board, which administers the soybean checkoff nationally, and the USDA-NIFA Extension IPM grants program.

For once, homeowners may be experiencing some of the insect angst that farmers have traditionally felt. Entomologists report the BMSB has been wreaking havoc in homes and vegetable gardens throughout the upper Southeast.

One non-farming homeowner wishes the pests had stayed in Asia. “Here in northwestern Virginia, where I am, the stink bugs are my No. 1 home pest,” says Kenneth Coney. The exterior walls of my house are black with them. A door or window can’t be opened (at any hour) without 4 or 5 flying inside.”

In Virginia, growers plant between 500,000 and 600,000 acres of soybeans each year netting farm cash receipts exceeding nearly $250 million.

In addition to the surveillance program, Virginia entomologists are working with entomologists at the universities of Delaware and Maryland to develop more information on managing BMSBs in soybeans.

“Together, we are working on finding better sampling procedures, treatment thresholds, application tactics and what insecticides work best to control them,” Herbert says. “This is slow, tedious work, but we are making progress on many fronts. Our hope is that after we ‘crunch’ all our 2012 data and meet to discuss our findings, we will be able to roll out some new management recommendations — that is our goal.”

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