Their smell when stepped on is bad, but the danger they pose to Adams County fruit and vegetable crops is even worse.
Stinkbugs are the latest threat to orchards in the region following in the footsteps of the plum pox virus and, of course, hail.
Greg Krawczyk, an entomologist with the Penn State University Fruit Research Center in Biglerville, said some fruit orchards have lost 40 percent of their crops to the bugs. The hardest hit are in Adams County, northern Maryland and West Virginia.
So far, orchards are reporting that the stinkbug problem has not peaked in Adams County, but they know its coming.
“We have been fortunate at our orchard not to have seen the damage that Lancaster and Berks County orchards have seen, but I fear that we will,” said Kay Hollabaugh, of Hollabaugh Bros. Orchard in Biglerville. “The last time we had a fear this big was the plum pox virus.”
The bad news for fruit farmers is the stinkbug has no natural predator meaning eradicating them will be quite the challenge.
“There is no answer right now,” Hollabaugh said. “At least with plum pox there was an answer. The answer was unfortunately removing orchards, but at least there was one. This is worse because there is no form of eradication.”
Although they are native to east Asia, stinkbugs started showing up in the United States around the 1990s.
“We have known about them,” said Boyer’s Nursery co-owner Dave Lower, “but I think we are all surprised by how fast their abundance has exploded. In our orchard, their existence is still widespread but I know some areas south of us were hit hard. We personally are not seeing them right now in great numbers.”
Lower said he spots stinkbugs mostly along the edges of woodlands and knows they are prevalent around crops such as corn or soybeans.
“The concern is that we don’t know much about the stinkbug,” he said. “This is the first year it has really shown up in abundance. It is a relatively new pest and the problem is that it has multiple generations. A lot of the questions as to how to eradicate it are unanswered right now.”
Stinkbugs spare no fruits or vegetables and while the flavor of the product is not greatly impacted, it is the visual appeal of the crop that takes a hit. Experts said the bug leaves behind a brown spot on the inside and outside of the fruit.
“The consumer wants to see a perfect piece of fruit or vegetable,” Hollabaugh said. “With stinkbugs you will see corking in apples and other visual deficiencies.”
Krawczyk said this year the stinkbug population is around three times its average. He is currently trying to establish a colony in his lab to do research during the winter.
No answers are coming from the orchards either.
“They wintered quite well,” Hollabaugh said. “I would like to think that if we had a hard, cold and wet winter it would help but we just had that and they are strong this year so I can’t make any predictions.”
The problem is so scary, she added, that local farmers are trying to get the American Farm Bureau and even Congress involved.
“In Adams County, we have strong people in the agriculture industry and we will get past this,” she said. “It won’t be fast and it won’t be easy and I do fear that some growers will not be able to withstand the financial impact that the stinkbug issue brings with it.”