Blueberry growers fear outbreak of worms, beetles

Posted June 17, 2010, at 12:39 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Managers are examining their wild blueberry fields this week as an outbreak of spanworms and flea beetles has been discovered in Centerville, near Columbia Falls.

David Yarborough, the wild blueberry expert with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said he visited Washington County barrens and recently saw “some pretty extensive damage. They are really chewing up the fields.”

But Yarborough said the outbreak is part of a natural cycle, and growers should not be alarmed.

“When the weather conditions are right, the population can explode,” he said. “Apparently they like it dry.”

Yarborough said the worms and beetles chew on new bush growth and can gnaw the bushes right to the ground.

“In a bad infestation you can scoop up the earth next to the plant and your hand comes up filled with worms,” he said.

Yarborough also stressed, however, that “nature is not a static thing and these population cycles are normal.”

He said the outbreak is not widespread in the county and that the infestation has been limited to fields in the Centerville area.

He suggests owners treat the bushes with a variety of pesticides, including organic and newly developed, highly effective types.

Nate Pennell, district director of the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District, suggested all owners should be assessing their fields for the insects and larvae and using appropriate treatment methods.

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