Marauding insects underscore need for Land-Grants

Brown marmorated stink bugs, commonly called Asian stink bugs, are moving from north to south and have already made it from Pennsylvania to central Virginia in damaging numbers and in isolated cases as far south as Greenville, S.C.

The Asian bean plataspid, commonly known as the kudzu bug, has spread south to north from Georgia at an alarming rate, invading every county in South Carolina in about a year and has made its way into more than 40 counties in North Carolina in less than a year.

Congress has gotten involved with the brown marmorated stink bug.

Following is the opening blast of a news release from a Pennsylvania congressman. “Provisions included in a bill passed by the House yesterday would make fighting the brown marmorated stink bug infestation a greater priority for the United States Department of Agriculture USDA, according to Rep. Frank Wolf, USDA (R-Va).

Wolf said the annual bill that funds the Department of Agriculture includes new directives for the four research agencies of the USDA to identify and develop effective stink bug control methods.”

The cyber generation is likewise pitching in to stop the invading critters from Asia. A well-intended public group has established Really! It’s a real website for sharing horror stories of damage and success stories of killing stink bugs.

All well meaning, I’m sure, but farmers in the upper Southeast are caught squarely in the crosshairs of these invading insects and they know the best defense they have is the team of entomologists at Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Clemson and other Southeastern universities, who are scrambling to find economically affordable and environmentally friendly methods to control these pests.

If ever the general public needed a reminder of how important our Land-Grant system is to their well-being — not just the well-being of farmers, this may be it.

Both of these species came to the U.S. from Asia, most likely China. Most of the research done to find management strategies for these bugs is written in Chinese, making a slow-go for U.S. researchers to find valuable biological traits that may be turned into management strategies.

These foreign bugs are distantly related in the insect world — both are commonly called stink bugs, though the kudzu bug technically isn’t a stink bug. It does stink if threatened, but it’s only a distant biological cousin.

In the case of the brown marmorated stink bug, the public is impacted more so than with any other insect species that damages crops. This particular bug, unlike any other pest of crops, finds comfortable over-wintering quarters in homes, and it’s not a welcome guest.

Pennsylvania homeowners have been so outraged by finding these Asian imports in their homes by the thousands that they’ve turned to the U.S. Congress for help. Given their recent respective track records, who would you prefer to have fighting these pests, the U.S. Congress or a small team of dedicated entomologists at a handful of Land-Grant universities?

Call me skeptical and biased at best and unpatriotic and fundamentally flawed at worst, but give me the entomologists and the Land-Grant system every time when it comes to managing bugs and saving crops.

The U.S. legislative system did a day’s work when they passed the Morrill Act, creating the Land-Grant system. Of course that’s now been about a century and a half ago. Our modern day legislators seem more prone to extending their political life and spending our money than in passing legislation that actually helps us put food on our tables.

In case you don’t know much about stink bugs, let me assure you these little critters are aptly named. Step on one and you’ll find out just how accurate the moniker is. Step on dozens of them after they colonize in an over-wintering stupor in your house, and you’ll most likely want to find a good entomologist and/or a new place to live for a few days.

Atlanta area homeowner, Maura Buchman writes, “I live in Atlanta, Ga., and we have had two summers full of stink bugs. Now we are seeing a huge population increase in the Black Widow spiders. I have not found any direct correlation between the two, but highly suspect the stink bugs are feeding the widows.“ 

Whether Ms. Buchman’s theory on spiders and stink bugs is accurate, we don’t know for sure. There are many things about these pests we don’t know, but need to know. Again, when it comes to a threat to our food supply, that’s what the Land-Grant system was established to protect.

Home owner problems, whether real or not, caused by the kudzu bug is miniscule compared to the misery dealt to homeowner and home gardeners in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and northern Virginia.

The real threat, of course, is to our food supply. Both of these Asian-bred insects have the capability to devastate crops. Though they appear headed on a collision course in the Southeast, there is little reason to believe they won’t quickly make their way to America’s bread basket in the Midwest. Or, that they will eventually inundate our fruit and nut epicenter in California.

Again, who do you want to fight that battle? The Land-Grant universities across our country were legislated into existence to fight this kind of battle — to protect farmers and our food supply. Unfortunately too many of our current slate of legislators don’t seem to see it that way, preferring to tear down rather than build up our Land-Grant system.

To those who have eternal faith in our legislative system and contend Land-Grant universities are an economic drain on our over-taxed incomes, be careful of that domestic wine you sip — stink bugs love to hide among the grapes and be careful where you step — those little bugs really do stink.

And most of all, enjoy that low cost food, it may be in a little jeopardy from here on out, if we depend on politicians and the Internet to do the job.

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TAGS: Management
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