MACHIAS, Maine — Those who know bugs term it Drosophila melanogaster — a tiny, spotted-wing Asian fruit fly that landed on the West Coast and has since made its way east to the blueberry barrens and cranberry bogs of Down East Maine.
The Japanese pest lays its eggs in soft berries, which destroys the fruit. Last year, it devastated the raspberry crop in Connecticut, and it’s feared it will target Down East Maine’s blueberry and cranberry crops during the upcoming 2012 growing season.
“It can be quite devastating,” said David Yarborough, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s blueberry expert. “In 2010, we found it in one trap we set. Last year we found it everywhere we looked. It has the potential of being a major pest, as it is very prolific and lays thousands of eggs in soft fruit, including blueberries and cranberries.”
While there are pesticides that will kill the bug, spraying is both costly and time-consuming.
“Instead of spraying once or twice every other year, with this pest we’re looking at spraying once or twice a week for months,” Yarborough said. “And we’ve been trying our best to get away from spraying.”
Yarborough said the Extension Service will be stepping up its monitoring program to track the spread of the fruit fly. Blueberry growers are coming out of a less than stellar 2011 crop, he said, and don’t need any new threats to this year’s harvest.
“The 2011 harvest in Maine was about average, 80 [million] to 85 million pounds,” Yarborough said. “In certain areas, around Union and Ellsworth, it was very wet and cold during pollination. And it seemed that it was either raining or blowing upward of 20 miles per hour when it came time to spray. In some of those areas, there was a 30 to 50 percent reduction in yield. In July, there was both drought and heat, which didn’t help.”
Down East blueberry barrens did well, Yarborough said. “It was spotty, but with all the rain in August right before the harvest there was large fruit.”
Growers were paid around 80 cents per pound, higher than prices paid in 2010. Maine growers benefited from a poor harvest in Quebec, Yarborough said.
Addressing the threat of the Asian fruit fly will be among the topics discussed next week in Augusta when blueberry and cranberry growers meet at the annual agricultural trade show.