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Gone, but not for good

I think they are gone. They’ll be back next summer, guaranteed. I’m talking about bugs – one in particular – the Japanese beetle. It is not an ugly bug, as beetles go. At about half-inch long, they have iridescent copper-colored wings and green head. If you see one near your roses or fruit-bearing plants, just wait until next year. They will bring friends, and even more the next year. These pests multiply over several years to the point that they literally devour all of the foliage on your apple tree or grape vines. If you have prize-winning roses, they particularly enjoy chewing on the center of rose blooms. From crepe myrtle to blackberry bushes, they like it all. If you have them, you know.

Where did they come from? The name says it all. First found in the U.S. in 1916, they are believed to come from a Japanese shipment of iris bulbs sent to the East Coast in 1912. The stowaways came in the form of larvae, just before commodities entering the U.S. were inspected. Natural predators take care of them in their native country. They spread west and as recently as 2006 began to enter Missouri territory.

I wish they wouldn’t come back. Last month, buckets of them were collected on my little piece of property. They show up in late June. After hatching from eggs, the larvae form into the winged creatures that spell doom if you don’t pay attention. By mid-July hordes of them are in the trees and bushes. If you are on vacation, they can skeletonize the foliage on your fruit crop in a matter of days. This is no exaggeration.

Missouri has some large orchards and vineyards that are dealing with the Japanese beetle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a bacterium called milky spore. This biological powder is applied to the ground where the spores multiply and feed on Japanese beetle larvae. It is expensive and takes a couple years to work, but is effective. Then there are people like me, and maybe you, that come home and spray insecticide on everything every few days just to get rid of those nasty bugs. If it rains, plan on spraying again. It is enough to drive a person buggy! If you don’t like spraying, an alternative method is to purchase pheromones that attract and collect the beetles in a specially shaped bag. At the height of their cycle, a bag can be filled with beetles daily. Problem is, the pheromones just attract more bugs. Some stores have taken the pheromone products off the shelf because even as one pest is smothered in the bag, a dozen more are attracted to the area, your area.

So, what is the point? Straight up, I hate Japanese beetles. It goes deeper. In the battle for supremacy over this pest I have a better appreciation of what farmers and ranchers deal with daily on a much larger scale. Growing crops and raising livestock, farmers are always in pest management mode. They use the many tools at their disposal to get rid of the pests and do it in a safe manner.

If my crop is a bust because of those nasty beetles, I can always go to the grocery store. Farmers and ranchers grow things for people like us and I’m glad they keep those store shelves stocked.

Chris Fennewald, of Jefferson City, is editor for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.

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