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Foreign Insects to be Used in War on Sweetpotato Whiteflies

March 12, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Scientists have recruited troops of wasps, beetles and fungi from Spain, Crete, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Egypt to help fight the war in the United States against the infamous sweetpotato whitefly.

″Whitefly enemies were collected from a wide variety of climates and growing seasons in six countries last year,″ said Richard S. Soper, assistant administrator for international research programs in the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Research Service.

The sweetpotato whitefly has cost millions of dollars in losses to U.S. farmers since its discovery in Florida in 1987. It attacks about 500 crops and other plant species. In addition to its namesake, they include cotton, alfalfa, carrots, peanuts, cantaloupe, citrus, eggplant, melons, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, celery, peppers, squash, cauliflower, tomatoes and cucumber.

The Agriculture Department almost doubled the money allocated to fight the pest in 1993 because of the economic threat it poses, raising the allocation from $3.5 million to $6.2 million.

Sixty-two shipments containing thousands of wasps, beetles and fungi were shipped by USDA scientists in France to ARS quarantine labs in Mississippi and Delaware and an insect facility in Texas run by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

″Our entomologists shipped 17 different species of whitefly enemies,″ Soper said. ″This gives researchers in the U.S. the most diverse pool to date of natural candidates for controlling whiteflies.″

Scientists with the Agriculture Department and with various states and universities receiving the organisms will see how well they can adapt to U.S. farm fields, Soper said.

″It usually takes several years for an imported natural enemy to multiply in its new home and start taking its toll on an insect or weed pest, but in the long term this approach can be the best alternative to chemical pesticides,″ he said.

Alan Kirk, an ARS entomologist with the European Biological Control Laboratory in Montpellier, France, said he and colleague Lawrence Lacey spent 117 days last year collecting whitefly-killing wasps, beetle and fungi in Spain, Crete, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Egypt.

Most of the whitefly enemies were found in fields and greenhouses, he said.

″But in Crete, we found parasitic wasps in whiteflies on a flowering wild sweetpotato plant by a cafe where we had stopped for lunch,″ Kirk related.

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Pear production in major producing countries is expected to increase 24 percent, to 6 million tons, in 1993, due mostly to a bumper crop in Europe.

Production in the United States was estimated to rise 5 percent to 861,700 tons, while production in the European Community was estimated at 2.9 million tons, ″a dramatic 57 percent jump,″ said an Agriculture Department report this month on horticultural products.

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