MSUToday
Published: June 1, 2017

MSU receives grant to combat invasive pest in tart cherry trees

Contact(s): Holly Whetstone MSU AgBioResearch whetst11@msu.edu

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, awarded $150,000 today to scientists at Michigan State University to combat spotted wing drosophila, an invasive pest that decimated 21 percent of Michigan’s 2016 cherry crop, according to industry surveys.

MSU, the Michigan Cherry Committee and the Michigan State Horticulture Society are matching the foundation’s grant, for a $300,000 total investment in research to mitigate and prevent future damage from SWD. 

The pest poses as an economic threat to Michigan tart cherry farmers, who must take costly measures to protect their crop against SWD. Michigan produces two-thirds of the nation’s supply of tart cherries, or more than 200 million pounds, which garner hundreds of millions of dollars in the global export market.

“This important research has the potential for far-reaching impacts on American farmers, not only in Michigan, but in the 40 other states where spotted wing drosophila has been identified,” said Sally Rockey, executive director of the foundation. “By responding rapidly to emerging issues, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research serves as a bridge to traditional funding sources while supporting critical short-term research that will help farmers in the field.” 

“Invasive pests pose a serious threat to the livelihood of Michigan’s cherry farmers," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Michigan State University is a national leader in agriculture research with the expertise needed to quickly respond to threats to this important part of Michigan's diverse agricultural economy.”

To date, few management systems have yielded both immediate and long-term solutions to combat this invasive pest. This grant will support the investigation of integrated pest management strategies with the potential to mitigate the damage caused by SWD not only in tart cherries, but also in other specialty crops, including blueberries and raspberries.   

“We are fortunate as a state to have excellent researchers working with growers on SWD,” said Phil Korson, executive director of the Cherry Marketing Institute. “The industry has supported research and MSU has received several national grants. I’m confident that, with the additional resources from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, our team will lead the way in developing a holistic plan for this pest.” 

MSU researchers aim to tackle this issue in three ways. Researchers will investigate optimal application techniques for current pesticides, develop SWD population maps in order to disseminate outbreak data and provide direct outreach to farmers who benefit from improved SWD management.

Julianna Wilson, an entomologist and tree fruit outreach specialist at MSU, will lead the team of collaborators.

“SWD is a serious concern for tart cherry growers. Their production costs have increased by 20-30 percent due to dealing with this pest,” she said. “Our team of MSU researchers is building off preliminary research and going to new resources of external funding to find the most effective and cost-efficient integrated pest management strategies for growers.”

Co-principal investigators on this project include:

  • Bill Ravlin, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology
  • Larry Gut, professor
  • Rufus Isaacs, professor
  • Nikki Rothwell, extension specialist
  • John Wise, professor 
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