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Pest poses problem for Minn. fruit farms, berry patches

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A tiny Asian fruit fly is showing up in Minnesota, and the state Agriculture Department worries about the pest's potential to damage local fruit farms and berry patches.

The Pioneer Press reports that the department issued a warning about the spotted wing Drosophila, which poses a threat to farms that grow raspberries, grapes, blueberries, strawberries and cherries.

The fruit fly arrived in California fields in 2008 and caused significant losses there. The insects were detected in Minnesota last summer, and caused some pick-your-own raspberry farmers to experience a 50 percent loss. The pest was confirmed this year on June 27 in Dakota County. A week later, it showed up in Rice County. Five more reports have surfaced.

The newspaper warns that the infestation could result in the "juicy tastes of summer swarming with maggots." An entomologist at University of Minnesota explains that the flies lay eggs inside the fruit, and when they hatch, the larvae feeds on the fruit from the inside.

The Asian fruit fly can be managed with insecticides, but that presents a problem for pick-your-own farms where visitors sample berries from the vine.

"Historically, most berry growers in Minnesota have not had to use any insecticides, particularly during the late-season harvests," Bill Hutchinson, a U entomologist, wrote last fall. "This pest could be a true 'game changer' for the Minnesota berry industry."

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The Minnesota Department of Agriculture confirms spotted wing drosophila, an invasive pest of Asian origin, was found in Hennepin County this month. The pest feeds on healthy, ripening fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, plums and cherries. Anyone who finds small, white maggots in what was healthy fruit is asked to call the state agriculture department.