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Peters Reintroduces 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) has reintroduced bipartisan legislation that would 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. Peters plans to push for the bill to be included in the 2023 Farm Bill.

The spotted wing drosophila is an invasive pest from East Asia that 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 authored and reintroduced with U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) – 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 Michigan growers about how these invasive insects continue to damage their blueberries, cherries, and other fruits – and pose a serious threat to their livelihoods and businesses,” said Senator Peters. “I’m reintroducing this much-needed, bipartisan bill to help keep down costs for fruit growers, mitigate the spread of this invasive pest, and prevent their crops from being spoiled 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.”

“Spending most of my life around the agriculture sector, I know just how badly invasive species can decimate and neuter a farm’s crop yield,” said Senator Braun. “All across the nation, the Eastern Asian spotted wing drosophila has been wreaking havoc in produce farms by destroying fruits and vegetables. I’m proud to sign onto this bipartisan piece of legislation that will combat these nasty pests so farmers have one less thing to worry about.”

“Agriculture is deeply ingrained into Oregon’s economy, and Oregon’s small fruit and tree fruit crops growers need all the help they can get combatting invasive pests – such as the spotted wing drosophila,” said Senator Merkley. “This bill would help ensure researchers have the resources and funding needed to develop efficient ways to get rid of these pests without costing our growers extra money and time.”

“On behalf of cherry growers in Michigan, the Cherry Marketing Institute is grateful for Senator Peters’ efforts to [re]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.”

“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. “We applaud Senator Peters on reintroducing 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 researchers at Michigan State University and many other U.S. universities – 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 reintroduced 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 – by authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire additional inspectors was signed into law. 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.