British Columbia

Chafer beetle infestations could threaten B.C. crops

First it was lawns, then it was parks and fields. Could crops be the next target of chafer beetle infestations?

Ontario has seen damage to potatoes, ginseng and blueberries — which are also grown in B.C.

In Ontario, blueberry crops have been damaged by chafer beetle infestations. Could B.C. blueberries be next? (Genevieve Milord/CBC)

Chafer beetle infestations are ruining lawns across the Lower Mainland, but now a B.C. Ministry of Agriculture scientist is worried the insects might affect crops in the Fraser Valley and beyond.

Tracy Hueppelsheuser, an entomologist with the ministry's plant and animal health branch, says people need to manage the bugs at home so fears of crop damage don't become a reality.

"We're very concerned. European chafer has wreaked havoc in eastern North America from its initial spread in New York State, and it has caused damage in forage crops and cereal crops, particularly winter cereals, as well as being an issue with nursery crops as well," Hueppelsheuser told The Early Edition guest host Stephen Quinn.

Hueppelsheuser says even a single pregnant female, if it hitches a ride on a truck, for instance, could start an entirely new infestation somewhere far from where it started.

She says in Ontario root crops like potatoes and ginseng are under threat, as are blueberries. All of those are grown in B.C.

Farmers have a few options when it comes to handling the pests, such as crop rotation and pesticides, but "just not having the pest would be the best solution," Hueppelsheuser said.

She says homeowners can be part of the solution, even if they live in a municipality that doesn't allow cosmetic pesticides.

"You want to encourage good root growth with your turf, you want to make sure you don't cut the turf too short because that stresses it out," she said.

"You want to make sure you choose varieties of grass that can tolerate our warm, dry summers, and varieties of grasses that can resist some grub feeding and repel grubs."

Another strategy that some are finding successful is seeding existing turf with grass species that resist beetle grubs.

Creeping grasses like fescues and perennial ryegrass are being tried out in Ontario, she said.

This story originally appeared on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Chafer beetle infestations pose risk to B.C. crops, scientist says


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