Watch Out for Invasive Species

Daniel CooperPests

By Clint Thompson

Asian citrus psyllid is a highly destructive invasive species.
USDA/ARS photo by David Hall

April is Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants help in identifying invasive species that threaten the food supply and cause plant diseases.

Samantha Simon, USDA’s executive director of emergency and domestic programs, says invasive species can threaten agriculture and many farming operations, especially in the Southeast.

She says many invasive species like to call the Southeast home. That includes Asian citrus psyllids, emerald ash borer beetles, imported fire ants and more.

Simon emphasizes that since it’s springtime, invasive species or “hungry pests,” are on the move and looking for sources of food. These can range from a wide variety of trees to various food crops. Invasive pests need to be reported to the USDA if they’re spotted.

“Hungry pests are emerging and they’re going to be out there moving around. We’re out there moving around as well. It’s a great time for us to look around for unusual signs of the pest or disease in the trees, in our plants, in our own backyard,” Simon said, adding that hungry pests can hurt citrus and other types of growers.

“There’s always a risk for exotic fruit flies, which of course, will impact fruits and vegetables and nuts as well. Thankfully, at the moment, we do not have any of those. We’re actively working to keep those out of the Southeast. It’s important to know, the things we move, whether it’s bean plants, or fruits or vegetables or untreated firewood, may include these hungry pests.”

She says the invasive Asian citrus psyllid has devastated millions of acres of citrus in Florida and has affected Texas and California. “We are working actively with the citrus industries to help prevent the spread of citrus greening,” Simon said.

To learn more about Asian citrus psyllid management, see this article.

The United Nations (UN) designated 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. The goal was to raise awareness about the devastating impact invasive pests have on the environment, food security and the global economy. The UN estimates that each year, invasive pests destroy up to 40 percent of food crops. They can also cause $220 billion in trade losses worldwide. This trade, worth nearly $1.7 trillion annually, is crucial for human survival and economic growth in rural areas.

About the Author

Clint Thompson