Harvest Desk
5:43 am
Mon September 9, 2013

New Pest Damaging Midwest Fruit Crops

Farmers across Illinois and other midwest states are worried about their berries, peaches and tomatoes thanks to a newly arrived pest.  

The spotted wing drosophila looks like an ordinary fruit fly but is way more deadly. It kills healthy fruit by making a tiny slit in a fruit’s skin and laying eggs inside. In two weeks, a female fly can lay more than 300 eggs. So a couple of adults can become thousands in a few months. Lincoln University’s Jaime Piñero says no soft fruit is safe.

"We're talking about cherries, peach, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, grape and many, many other types of fruits," Pinero said.

A spotted wing drosophila rests on a raspberry.
A spotted wing drosophila rests on a raspberry.
Credit Timothy Baker

Since the larvae feed under a fruit’s skin, farmers are having a hard time learning their crops are infested before it’s too late. Missouri Grower Ronda Thiessen lost 35 percent of her cherries. "And so we had to stop harvesting because we couldn't get enough good fruit to take to market. You know part of our season was just gone." lamented Thiessen.

Thiessen says the fly has now moved to her peaches. She worries the apples could be next. The spotted wing drosophila is native to Japan but was first discovered here in California in 2008. It’s since been detected across the country – including in Illinois, Iowa and Colorado last year and now in Nebraska and Missouri.

Harvest Public Media is a collaboration of WUIS and other stations focusing on farm and food.