Michigan State University Researchers Awarded Grant to Combat Invasive Pest in Tart Cherry Trees

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, awarded $150,000 to scientists at MSU to combat spotted wing drosophila.

Spotted wing drosophila in the lab.

WASHINGTON, D.C.The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, today awarded $150,000 to scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) to combat spotted wing drosophila (SWD), an invasive pest that decimated 21 percent of Michigan’s 2016 cherry crop according to industry surveys. 

Michigan State University, the Michigan Cherry Committee, and the Michigan State Horticulture Society are matching the Foundation’s grant, for a $300,000 total investment in research to mitigate and prevent future damage from SWD. The pest poses an economic threat to Michigan tart cherry farmers, who must take costly measures to protect their crop against SWD. Michigan produces two-thirds of the nation’s supply of tart cherries, or more than 200 million pounds, which fetch hundreds-of-millions of dollars in the global export market. 

“This important research has the potential for far-reaching impacts on American farmers not only in Michigan, but in the 40 other states where spotted wing drosophila has been identified,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “By responding rapidly to emerging issues, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research serves as a bridge to traditional funding sources while supporting critical short-term research that will help farmers in the field.” 

The grant is issued through the Foundation’s Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, an initiative designed to prevent and mitigate damage from emerging pests and pathogens through short-term research funding. Applicants are encouraged to form broad-based coalitions to increase research collaboration and maximize the mitigation potential of each grant. 

"Invasive pests pose a serious threat to the livelihood of Michigan's cherry farmers," said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Michigan State University is a national leader in agriculture research with the expertise needed to quickly respond to threats to this important part of Michigan's diverse agricultural economy."

To date, few management systems have yielded both immediate and long-term solutions to combat this invasive pest. This grant will support the investigation of integrated pest management strategies with the potential to mitigate the damage caused by SWD not only in tart cherries, but also in other specialty crops including blueberries and raspberries.    

“We are fortunate as a state to have excellent researchers working with growers on SWD,” said Phil Korson, executive director of the Cherry Marketing Institute. “The industry has supported research, and MSU has received several national grants. I’m confident that, with the additional resources from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, our team will lead the way in developing a holistic plan for this pest.”

MSU researchers aim to tackle this issue three ways: 1) investigate suitability and optimal application techniques for current pesticides, 2) develop real-time SWD population maps to disseminate outbreak data and 3) provide direct outreach to farmers who will most benefit from improved SWD management.

Julianna Wilson, Ph.D., an entomologist and tree fruit outreach specialist at Michigan State University, will lead the team of collaborators. 

“SWD is a serious concern for tart cherry growers. Their production costs have increased by 20-30 percent due to dealing with this pest,” said Wilson. “Our team of MSU researchers is building off preliminary research and going to new resources of external funding to find the most effective and cost-efficient integrated pest management strategies for growers.” 

Co-principal investigators on this project include:

  • Bill Ravlin, Ph.D., MSU professor and entomology department chair
  • Larry Gut, Ph.D, professor at Michigan State University
  • Rufus Isaacs, Ph.D., professor at Michigan State University
  • Nikki Rothwell, extension specialist at Michigan State University
  • John Wise, Ph.D., professor at Michigan State University 

To ensure immediate and useful application of research findings, MSU collaborators will coordinate with a Consortium, Task Force, and Advisory Committee formed under the umbrella of the Michigan SWD Initiative. Membership includes cherry growers and producers, MSU professors and Extension Educators and representatives of the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, Michigan Farm Bureau Board of Directors, Michigan Cherry Committee, Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, and Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. 

About the ROAR Program

The spread of a pest or pathogen can cause immediate and severe damage to multiple industries across the value chain. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research designed the ROAR program to accelerate initial research and outreach response to potential emergencies by pre-establishing teams of experts, agreements, and funding sources. Research funded through ROAR will enhance the nation’s capacity to mitigate, contain and prevent outbreaks by reviewing and responding to emergency grant proposals within one week of submission, and rapidly issuing research and outreach funds to serve as a bridge to traditional funding sources. 

About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges.  FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Learn more: www.foundationfar.org | http://bit.ly/FFARenews Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking. 

About Michigan State University

Michigan State University has been advancing the common good with uncommon will for more than 160 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU pushes the boundaries of discovery and forges enduring partnerships to solve the most pressing global challenges while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

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