Everywhere you look, farmers are making a stink about stink bugs. These invasive pests — officially known as brown marmorated stink bugs — have spread throughout the eastern United States since they were accidentally introduced from Asia in the late 1990s and are now heading further west. Efforts to control the insects haven't been extremely successful. Right now farmers in Maryland, Oregon, North Carolina and other states face infestations that could damage their crops and cost millions of dollars.


Organic farmers, who don't use pesticides, face a particularly tough time when confronted with stink bugs. That's why a team of researchers around the country has formed to look into ways to organically manage the insects. The effort, led by researchers from Rutgers University, now has a new partner, West Virginia University (WVU), which recently received a $2,672,327 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study the stink bug project.


"The brown marmorated stink bug is an invasive insect causing severe economic loss in Mid-Atlantic states, with damage increasing in southern states,” Yong-Lak Park, an associate professor of entomology in WVU's Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said in a prepared press release. "It is an especially devastating pest for organic farmers."

In addition to not being able to use pesticides, a few other factors make it harder for organic farms to control the pests. Stink bugs feed on multiple kinds of crops and can spread out in a very large geographic area. Park says looking at an entire farm as one big system — what he calls "whole-farm management" — could help with some of those issues. "This will aid growers in the selection and planning of trap crops, enhancing natural enemies and cultural control, all of which will be researched in this project," he said. "WVU's research team will search for new natural enemies and investigate movement patterns of stink bugs on the farm that will be integrated into development and execution of organic stink bug management."


The WVU effort is part of their larger organic farm project, which has been in place since 1998 (coincidentally, the year the stink bug was first observed in the U.S.) and aims to provide "scientifically sound research and education to support organic growers and gardeners."


Stink bugs aren't harmful to humans, pets or wildlife, but they do breed quite rapidly and consume a great deal of vegetation. They also have a bad habit of finding their way into buildings or cars through even the smallest of openings. Getting rid of them can be tough, since they live up to their names when they are squashed.


Other participants in the organic management project include the University of Kentucky, Michigan State University, University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, University of Tennessee, North Carolina State University, Ohio State University and Rodale Institute.


Also on MNN: