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Stink bug damage to crops might be less severe

September 04, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Bill Gardenhour talks about what stink bugs can do to peaches. Gardenhour owns 100 acres of land that produces fruit outside Smithsburg. He said the stink bug damage this year has been "very, very minimal."
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The prevalence of stink bugs and their related damage to crops in Washington County appears to be less severe as in past years, according to local agricultural experts.

But the infestation of the bugs is spotty and there is a concern that the insects might cause more crop damage as the region moves into fall.

“(It’s) the apple crop we’re worried about,” said University of Maryland Extension agriculture educator Jeff Semler.

The stink bug — which migrated from Asia about 10 years ago — has become the bane of farmers thanks to its voracious appetite for tomatoes, peaches, apples, soybeans and corn.

The brown marmorated stink bug sinks its mouth into crops, sucks out the juice and leaves them mottled due to its enzyme-injected bite.

The Tri-State area endured a heavy infestation of the bugs last year.

J.D. Rinehart, who has 300 acres of apple trees and 100 acres of peach trees in Smithsburg, said initially, this year’s stink bug population seemed smaller compared to last year’s.

Bill Gardenhour, of Gardenhour Orchards near Smithsburg, was of the same opinion, describing stink bug damage this year as “very, very minimal.”

Rinehart said with the approach of fall, however, he is seeing a lot more stink bugs on his farm, and he is worried about the insects causing damage to his apples such as red delicious and golden delicious, which are harvested later in the year.

To the general public, the stink bug infestation will probably appear to not be as bad this year, Semler said.

But “the jury is still out” on the severity of the infestation because there still are four to five weeks to go before a killing frost is expected, Semler said.

When the weather turns cold, stink bugs will spend the winter in houses and any other structures where they can find protection from the elements, Semler said.

The bugs lay eggs in June and the insects start hatching in July, while the adult bugs eventually die after laying eggs, Semler said. The bugs start reaching their adult stage at this time of the year, he said.

Semler said it is still possible this could be a light year for stink bugs and their damage.
“Our hope is last year was the perfect storm and it won’t be that way for a while,” Semler said, thus giving experts a chance to come up with a good defense against the insects.

Semler said peach damage might have been down this year because the fruit might have matured before the stink bugs started reaching the adult stage. They did cause some damage to sweet corn and soybeans, he said.

Mike Forsythe, who with his wife, Chris, owns Linden Hall Farm along Downsville Pike, said stink bugs have not caused nearly as much damage to crops on his 166-acre farm as they did in the last three years. They raise apples, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, corn and hay, along with running a dairy operation.

While orchard damage has been down, stink bugs did a lot of damage to sweet corn on the farm, Forsythe said, noting he also is seeing some damage to field corn.

“A lot of young (stink bugs) are hatching out in spots here and there, so we just don’t know yet what’s coming,” Forsythe said.

Staff photographer Ric Dugan contributed to this story.

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