As anti-pesticide sentiment builds, USDA backs plan to combat invasive Russian wheat aphid with wasps

| | May 11, 2020
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Russian wheat aphid has destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crops since the 1980s. Credit: Peggy Greb - USDA ARS
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Turning loose a non-native wasp to sting and kill an aphid that feasts on wheat and barley in the Western U.S. has received an environmental endorsement from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The wasp, Aphelinus hordei, a native of Eurasia, could be a weapon against Russian wheat aphids, an invasive bug found in 18 states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.

“Based on our assessment and other relevant data, releasing this biological control agent will not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment,” according to the agency.

Russian wheat aphids were first detected in the U.S. in 1986 in Texas. The aphids caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage over the following decade.

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The wasps are poor flyers and have limited range, and prey specifically on Russian wheat aphids. They are unlikely to stray far and their population should go down as they eat up the aphids, according to the USDA.

Laura Lavine, chairwoman of the Washington State University Department of Entomology, said …. [the] wasps could benefit farmers, especially with the push to ban some pesticides ….

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