Scientist warns P.E.I. farmers about wireworm

Farmers packed the Dutch Inn Tuesday to hear the science surrounding wireworms.

Pest a serious threat to potato crop

Wireworm is getting worse on the Island.

Farmers packed Charlottetown's Dutch Inn Tuesday to hear the science surrounding wireworms.

It's a tiny pest that's difficult to eradicate and is a serious threat to the Island's potato, vegetable and cereal crops.

Bob Vernon, an Agriculture Canada scientist, spoke to about 300 farmers. He's been researching wireworm for 20 years.

The tiny pest burrows into crops and leaves holes that make them unmarketable.

"You can have a single wireworm put four or five holes in a tuber. Back in British Columbia, where I come from, if you have two holes in a tuber, that's a cull and you throw it out," Vernon said.

Right now, farmers are using a pesticide called Thimet with limited success. It’s scheduled to be taken off the market. Vernon spoke about ongoing research into alternatives.

"There are a lot of hosts that it can live on and we have to look at strategies to attack it when it’s most vulnerable,” said Brian Beaton, an Island potato specialist.

“None of us knows what we don't know and this pest is multiplying extremely fast," added Alvin Keenan of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

Wireworm is found all over the world. The infestation on P.E.I. is worse than other parts of Canada and the Island has three species.

"You guys have all three here and one species worse than the other; the potato wireworm, which probably came from France or England," said Vernon. "I would say [what was] a lurking problem 10 years ago has become a more significant problem now and will be even more significant into the future.”

Worse for organic farmers

Wireworms can stay in the soil and multiply over many years. 

It's worse for organic farmers because they can't use chemical pesticides. Wireworm thrives in soils with high organic matter.

"We're going to try some different things in our rotation to see if we can keep a step ahead of it, because if we don't it's going to bankrupt us,” said Fred Dollar, an organic potato farmer

Vernon said there is no simple solution.