April is “Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month”

April is “Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.” Samantha Simon is the USDA’s Executive Director of Emergency and Domestic Programs. She says April is typically the best time to spot many of the damaging, invasive species that can attack the crops in rural America, as well as garden plants and trees.

Spotted lanternfly

“April is a time when many invasive plant pests start to emerge, and they’re easy to see, and people play an important, crucial role in preventing the spread. These are 20 hungry pests that are highly damaging and can cause damage to U.S. agriculture, for our citrus growers, for our winegrowers, the lumber industry, and our maple syrup producers. The best-known hungry pests are Emerald Ash Borer Beetle, exotic fruit flies, Asian Longhorn Beetle, and Spotted Lanternfly, as well as a disease that’s called Citrus Greening Disease.”

As farmers know very well, invasive species can cause a lot of economic damage.

“Invasive insects and plant diseases cost the U.S. an estimated $40 billion in damages each year to our trees, our plants, our crops, and they threaten our economy, our food supply, and our environment. Unfortunately, people can spread hungry pests by way of items that they move, such as plants and fruit, or through untreated firewood, or outdoor equipment. These items might be hiding egg masses or other stowaways.”

She talks about ways to help slow the spread of invasive pests.

“Never move untreated firewood. If they are buying seeds or plants, it’s important to try to buy them domestically. If you’re buying online, please make sure and check the origin and the importing requirements to make sure that you’re purchasing plants or seeds that meet our requirements if they’re originating from overseas. It is important that if you find a hungry pest or have something you think is unusual, please report it to the USDA state plant health director in your state. The easiest way to find that information is to go to Hungry Pests Dot Com. There’s a state dropdown box, you can select your state, and you’ll have the number for your state plant health director.”

If you find any signs of invasive pests, it’s important to take the right steps as soon as possible.

“For example, if you’re looking for a Spotted Lantern Fly which can damage vineyards, you would be looking for mud-like egg patches on smooth outdoor surfaces. If you find those egg masses, it’s important to smash, scrape, double-bag, and dispose of them. You may also find the insect itself. There are pictures at Hungry Pest Dot Com, and those pictures make it a very identifiable bug. If you find it in your state and it’s not known to be there, it’s important to report that so that we can go out and take actions to try to help control and eradicate those populations.”

The United Nations estimates that invasive pests destroy up to 40 percent of food crops and cause $220 billion in trade losses worldwide. For more information, go to www.hungrypests.com.