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By James Heffernan -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Virginia's fruit farmers have been given a new weapon to help control the brown marmorated stink bug that is causing significant damage to their crops.
The Environmental Protection Agency has granted an emergency exemption to allow the sale of the insecticide Dinotefuran for limited use on certain fruits, including apples and peaches.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services requested the exemption in April on behalf of seven eastern states as a way to help combat the pests, commonly referred to as "stink bugs" due to the odor they emit to repel predators.
A nuisance to many, the bugs can be devastating to farmers. The invasive Asian insects have no natural predators in the U.S.
The insects feed on tree fruits, leaving dimples on the surface and larger, brown discoloration inside that renders them unmarketable as a fresh product. The U.S. Apple Association estimated the damage to Virginia's apple crop alone last year at $37 million.
Without action, this year's crop could be even more compromised. In late May and early June, mid-Atlantic fruit researchers were reporting damage levels two months ahead of those in 2010.
Some experts worry that the stink bug could spread to other crops like cotton, soybeans and corn.
"These pests are causing our producers economic losses and damaging the state's reputation in the marketplace, so I am grateful that the EPA handled our exemption request in an expedited manner," Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore says in a statement.
Haymore also credits Reps. Frank Wolf, R-10th, and Robert Hurt, R-5th, for raising awareness of the issue in their respective districts.
Wolf held a briefing in the spring at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester that included remarks from Christopher Bergh, an associate professor of entomology at Virginia Tech.
The EPA's temporary exemption went into effect last Friday and runs through Oct. 15. A maximum of 29,000 acres of stone fruit (peaches and nectarines) and pome fruit (apples, pears and other varieties with a fleshy outer layer and a central seed core) may be treated with Dinotefuran during the period.
The EPA has also issued guidelines to mitigate unintended consequences in the use of the product, such as its toxicity to honeybees, according to Wolf's office.
Virginia agricultural officials will continue to assess the effectiveness of Dinotefuran in controlling stink bugs and its impact on the ecosystem.
"I commend the EPA for moving quickly to allow Virginia a temporary exemption to regulate the use of this insecticide while efforts continue on a permanent fix," Wolf says.
The congressman has also included language in the fiscal 2012 agriculture appropriations bill that would make the stink bug outbreak a top priority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The measure, already passed by the House, is awaiting consideration by the Senate.