Pioneer Valley Farmers Ready Fields for Insurgent Fruit Flies

Western Massachusetts fruit farmers are preparing for the arrival of a new invasive pest this summer. Learning to cope with non-native threats is no unfamiliar task — but some farmers say these bugs are particularly hard to deal with.

Ben Clark co-owns Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts. He says the Spotted Wing Drosophila is not your average fruit fly. That’s because it lays its eggs under the skin of ripening fruit. And Clark says once the larvae are inside — there’s no way of treating a crop. So he’s trying to detect the bug before it invades any of his fifty varieties of peaches.

“This is a trap for Spotted Wing Drosophila. The idea is it’s a little plastic canister that we hang on the peach tree. And it has a mixture — different mixtures — this one is actually cider vinegar with a little bit of laundry detergent. There’s a hole in the side that the fly will climb into or fly into.”

Clark says so far the flies have shown up at farms in nearby Belchertown and Whately — so he says it’s just a matter of time before they make an appearance in Deerfield.

Jon Clements is a tree fruit educator at UMass Amherst. He says the Southeast Asian flies have become a nuisance to farmers from Florida to Pennsylvania since showing up in California in 2008. Clements says it wasn’t until last September that Whately Massachusetts farmers noticed larvae in their Raspberries.

“When we had Hurricane Irene — that had a tendency to push adults up here. I mean they can’t fly very far. But if they get airborne and go on wind, they can go quite a ways.”

Clements says fruit tree specialists across the country are seeking a natural predator that could keep the fliesat bay. But he says for now — peach, plum and raspberry farmers — including those who choose to grow organically — may have to turn to insecticides to ward off large scale crop losses.