New Fly Slicing Its Way Through Missouri Produce

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COLUMBIA - A new type of fruit fly is slicing its way through Missouri's crops, and it's putting many farmers on alert in hopes of protecting their produce.

Dr. Jaime Piñero, a pest management specialist at Lincoln University said Tuesday the spotted wing drosophila made its way into Missouri several months ago, and it poses a serious risk to fruit and other crops in the state. Thursday, word was spreading among farmers.

"We are worried about this particular fly because of its ability to reproduce and spread at very rapid rates," Piñero said.

Piñero said he has received reports across the state of the fly causing extensive damage to crops in just the last few days. According to Pinero's study, the flies have a saw-toothed organ that they use to deposit eggs into various fruits. Over a two week life span a single fly can lay as many as 300 eggs.

Plant Sciences Specialist and local grower Wayne Bailey said it means extra work for farmers ahead of a busy harvest season.

"I am concerned because it means you have to be much more vigilant and scout more often,"  Bailey said. "We'll probably have to apply insecticides as needed and we'd rather not do that if we didn't have to. We'd rather grow things organically."

Bailey said the fly could affect as many as 16 different types of crops throughout the state, and a recent lack of rain means a greater level of exposure for some fruits and vegetables that crack from low levels of moisture.

Terry Woods, a local grower and entomologist for University of Missouri Extension said both farmers and consumers should be concerned.

"If this insect gets established, automatically people are going to be like 'there's bugs on this stuff, I don't want it'," Woods said.

Woods said while there have been no recent reports of the fly in the area so far, it doesn't necessarily mean the fly isn't already hitting some of his crops.

"Our protocols will change, our scouting," Woods said. "Perhaps we will have to introduce a chemical control regime."

Woods said because people are afraid to buy cosmetically unattractive produce, farmers will throw away affected crops which could result in an increase in prices.