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• Labor shortages, unstable weather patterns and the introduction of new insect pests are major roadblocks to overcome in Southeast vegetable acreage expansion.
LABOR UNCERTAINTIES are a factor in vegetable production growth in the Southeast, says Clemson Extension Specialist Powell Smith.
These pests may prove to be major problems in vegetable production in the years to come, but today the spotted wing drosophila, a recent import to the Southeast, has gotten the attention of fruit growers up and down the East Coast.
The spotted wing Drosophila (SWD) is native to Southeast Asia. It was detected in Japan in 1916, in Hawaii in the 1980s, and in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. by the mid 2000s.
In 2010, it was first documented in the Southeast and has been on the increase in terms of numbers and in the damage it causes to fruit in the region for the past two years.
Hannah Burrack, a small fruit entomologist at North Carolina State University says, “Spotted wing drosophila is an invasive pest of soft skinned fruit, which in the southeastern United States includes blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Wholesalers and marketers have zero tolerance for SWD in fresh market fruit.”
The African fig fly is another threat that so far has only been a potential concern for Southeast fruit growers, but one that could become a major insect pest in coming years. It is, as the name implies, native to Africa.
“This is a very distinctive, almost beautiful insect in the adult form, that’s probably why we began to notice it when it showed up sporadically in our traps,” Smith says.
“So far it’s been found mostly on damaged fruit and unlike the spotted wing Drosophila, it has not been a problem on fruit that is actively growing,” he adds.
In the Southeast this pest was first detected in Florida in 2005. It has now been reported in most Southeast states and as far north as Michigan and Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas.
It has the potential to damage blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other soft fruit grown in the Southeast.
“All these new insect pests have the potential to damage fruit and vegetable crops in the Southeast, and along with other challenges faced by commercial growers, add to the uncertainty of expanding production,” Smith says.
He adds that despite these challenges growers continue to add acreage and plant new crops. “They have certainly not been held back by the challenge, but more so by the uncertainty that labor, weather, and new pests bring to the table,” Smith adds.