Michigan State University Awarded Grant to Tackle Spotted Wing Drosophila

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, awarded $150,000 to scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) to combat spotted wing drosophila (SWD). SWD is an invasive pest that decimated 21% of Michigan’s 2016 cherry crop, according to industry surveys.

Michigan State University, the Michigan Cherry Committee, and the Michigan State Horticulture Society are matching the Foundation’s grant for a $300,000 total investment in research to mitigate and prevent future damage from SWD. The pest poses an economic threat to Michigan tart cherry farmers, who must take costly measures to protect their crop against SWD. Michigan produces two-thirds of the nation’s supply of tart cherries, or more than 200 million pounds, which fetch hundreds of millions of dollars in the global export market.

“This important research has the potential for far-reaching impacts on American farmers not only in Michigan but in the 40 other states where spotted wing drosophila has been identified,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “By responding rapidly to emerging issues, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research serves as a bridge to traditional funding sources while supporting critical short-term research that will help farmers in the field.”

The grant is issued through the Foundation’s Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, an initiative designed to prevent and mitigate damage from emerging pests and pathogens through short-term research funding. Applicants are encouraged to form broad-based coalitions to increase research collaboration and maximize the mitigation potential of each grant.

“Invasive pests pose a serious threat to the livelihood of Michigan’s cherry farmers,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Michigan State University is a national leader in agriculture research with the expertise needed to quickly respond to threats to this important part of Michigan’s diverse agricultural economy.”

To date, few management systems have yielded both immediate and long-term solutions to combat this invasive pest. This grant will support the investigation of integrated pest management strategies with the potential to mitigate the damage caused by SWD not only in tart cherries, but also in other specialty crops including blueberries and raspberries.

“We are fortunate as a state to have excellent researchers working with growers on SWD,” said Phil Korson, Executive Director of the Cherry Marketing Institute. “The industry has supported research, and MSU has received several national grants. I’m confident that, with the additional resources from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, our team will lead the way in developing a holistic plan for this pest.”

MSU researchers aim to tackle this issue three ways:

  1. Investigate suitability and optimal application techniques for current pesticides;
  2. develop real-time SWD population maps to disseminate outbreak data; and
  3. provide direct outreach to farmers who will most benefit from improved SWD management.

Julianna Wilson, Ph.D., an entomologist and tree fruit outreach specialist at Michigan State University, will lead the team of collaborators.

“SWD is a serious concern for tart cherry growers. Their production costs have increased by 20% to 30% due to dealing with this pest,” Wilson said. “Our team of MSU researchers is building off preliminary research and going to new resources of external funding to find the most effective and cost-efficient integrated pest management strategies for growers.”

Co-principal investigators on this project include:

  • Bill Ravlin, Ph.D., MSU professor and entomology department chair
  • Larry Gut, Ph.D, professor at Michigan State University
  • Rufus Isaacs, Ph.D., professor at Michigan State University
  • Nikki Rothwell, extension specialist at Michigan State University
  • John Wise, Ph.D., professor at Michigan State University

To ensure immediate and useful application of research findings, MSU collaborators will coordinate with a Consortium, Task Force, and Advisory Committee formed under the umbrella of the Michigan SWD Initiative. Membership includes cherry growers and producers, MSU professors and Extension Educators and representatives of the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, Michigan Farm Bureau Board of Directors, Michigan Cherry Committee, Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, and Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.

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