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Peters Announces Bipartisan SWAT Act to Target Invasive Insect Hurting Michigan Fruit Growers

Bill Would Fund Mitigation and Research on Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) Which Continue to Threaten Cherry, Blueberry, and Other Fruit Crops

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) announced bipartisan legislation to strengthen efforts to reduce the spread of – and advance research on – spotted wing drosophila (SWD), an invasive insect hurting fruit growers and their crops in Michigan and across the country.

This invasive pest from East Asia lays eggs in soft-skinned fruit crops, including cherries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Since their first detection in the continental United States in 2008, they have spread across the West Coast, as well as through Florida, Utah, the Carolinas, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The spotted wing drosophila have caused more than an estimated $700 million in economic loss per year nationally – in part because fruit buyers have a zero tolerance policy if the invasive insect is spotted on crops, meaning entire crop loads can be rejected if a single larva is detected. In addition, the use of insecticide and other pest management strategies on these crops in the U.S. has increased, raising costs for farmers.

Peters’ Spotted Wing Abatement Trust (SWAT) Act – which he introduced with U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mike Braun (R-IN) – would establish a fund managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to advance research and strengthen efforts to reduce the species’ population in the U.S. The fund would be authorized at $6.5 million annually for five years.

“I’ve heard from growers in Michigan how these invasive insects continue to damage blueberries, cherries, and other fruit crops, threatening their livelihoods and ability to sell produce,” said Senator Peters. “That’s why I introduced this much-needed, bipartisan legislation to help mitigate the spread of this invasive pest, lower costs for fruit growers, and prevent these crops from being ruined in the first place.”

“Maine’s wild blueberries are an integral part of our state’s heritage and play a major role in our state’s economy,” said Senator Collins. “The pervasiveness of the spotted wing drosophila has threatened the livelihoods of fruit farmers across the country. If left unchecked, it could have serious repercussions for our state’s blueberry industry as well.  Our bipartisan legislation would mitigate the rapid spread of this invasive pest and help prevent blueberry and other fruit crops from being spoiled by this infestation.”

“On behalf of cherry growers in Michigan, the Cherry Marketing Institute is grateful for Senator Peters’ efforts to introduce the SWAT Act, which will create funding specifically for the research and mitigation of Spotted Wing Drosophila,” said Julie Gordon, President of the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI). “SWD has resulted in significant crop losses and economic turmoil across the industry for over a decade. Michigan tart cherry growers have indicated that controlling SWD is a key priority and one of the biggest challenges to cherry farmers. This funding will be of great value to the cherry industry as well as many other fruit industries that have struggled to control this invasive pest.”

“SWD has been a major challenge for many fruit growers, and our MSU team has been working to expand the range of management options for controlling this pest,” said Rufus Isaacs, Professor of Entomology at Michigan State University. “Having this new biologically-based approach is an important development that we hope will reduce the pressure from SWD and improve the sustainability of fruit production across Michigan.”

“This invasive pest has led to significant crop losses for cherry farmers and increased input costs to mitigate their spread,” said Nels Veliquette, Vice President and CFO of Cherry Ke, Inc. based in Kewadin, Michigan. “We applaud Senator Peters on introducing the SWAT Act and for his continued efforts to address the issues impacting cherry growers across our state and country.”

A Spotted Wing Drosophila Response Team is led by Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Minnesota – and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Project GREEEN, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and various Michigan grower organizations. In talks with members of the Spotted Wing Drosophila Response Team, Professor Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University, Professor Ash Sial of University of Georgia, and officials with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have all said current federal funding levels are inadequate for the management of these invasive insects – and that’s why Peters introduced this legislation.

Peters has previously fought to support growers in Michigan and across the country by strengthening our defenses against invasive species. In 2020, Peters’ bipartisan legislation to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industry at the border was signed into law. This law ensures the safe and secure trade of agricultural goods across our nation’s borders by authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire additional inspectors, support staff, and K-9 teams to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry. This impacts growers in Michigan particularly – as Michigan is home to two of the nation’s busiest border crossings: the Detroit-Windsor crossing and the Blue Water Bridge. Every day, approximately 300,000 people and $910 million in trade cross the Northern Border – the largest bilateral flow of goods and people in the world. Peters also has led the charge to level the playing field with his bipartisan Self Initiation Trade Enforcement Act to help small- and medium-sized businesses negatively impacted by unfair trade practices from foreign countries, including Michigan cherry growers hurt by dumping and subsidies on imported goods. Peters has raised this issue with President Biden, Biden Administration officials, and the previous Administration. After a push by Peters, the U.S. International Trade Commission announced it would start tracking foreign imports to accurately measure the impact of trade on Michigan’s tart cherry industry.