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Public Statements

Letter to Thomas Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

Today, following reports of the crop damage armyworm larvae have already caused across Upstate New York, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the U.S Department of Agriculture to elevate the armyworm to the agricultural research service's (ARS) priority list of pests, in order to avoid devastating damage to crops and lawns in Western New York, the North Country, Central New York and the Rochester-Finger Lakes region. Specifically, Schumer wrote to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack and asked that he also ensure that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) produce a report with an updated guidance for controlling the pest, which would be helpful to those farmers and residents currently experiencing issues with armyworms, as well as preventative measures for those that have yet to experience the invasion of armyworms.

Armyworm larvae typically appear in mid-June, but are usually kept in check by predators. This year, however, reports indicate that storm systems blew the adult moths that produce the larvae into Western New York in late-May, well before their main predators--egg-laying flies and a virus that disperses throughout fields--arrived. Since then, these armyworms have advanced ground at a rapid pace, oftentimes overnight, to the Rochester region, Western and Central New York, and the North Country. Thus far, Onondaga, Jefferson, Cayuga, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Monroe, Livingston, Wayne, Ontario, Yates, Seneca, Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua Counties have reported an armyworms presence. While predators will help reduce the population, it does not appear that they will be able to eliminate this invasive insect as typically occurs.

"Armyworms are one visitor that no family farmer in Upstate New York can afford to live with this summer," said Schumer. "As this pest devours crop fields and lawns at an alarming pace across Western and Central New York, the Rochester Finger Lakes, and the North Country, I am urging the USDA to rank the armyworm a "high priority pest' in their agricultural research and action docket. I am pushing the USDA to update its guidance for controlling the armyworm as soon as possible and mobilize the resources at its disposal to help farmers and homeowners that have seen armyworms take hold of their property, all while detailing preventative measures for those that have evaded the armyworm thus far. It has been seven years since USDA issued its last guidance, and New Yorkers cannot wait another seven years while this pest devours their fields."

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) last issued guidance on the pest in 2005. The agricultural research service (ARS), which is USDA's research arm, does not consider the armyworm a high priority pest. Senator Schumer, however, is pushing to change that.

New York last experienced notable infestations in 2001 and 2008. The bugs typically do not overwinter in New York; instead, they are carried north from southern states by moths in the Spring. The migrations of these are difficult to predict, however, because they are sporadic and cyclic from year-to-year.

Unlike in past years, local farmers have reported that a second and third-wave of the infestation is possible if the pests are not completely eradicated. Many farmers fear that the second wave could occur just as crops are reaching their summer peaks. The potential for a drawn-out infestation and further damage to already stressed crops is forcing farmers and homeowners to spray crops and fields with chemical insecticides more often, causing a spike in insecticide sales. While increased sprayings might slow the pests' advance, it is uncertain whether they will be enough to completely eradicate them.

Cornell University has received National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grants to study the pest, but this most recent infestation has made clear that more work needs to be done.

A copy of Schumer's letter to Secretary Vilsack appears below:

Thomas Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I write to express my concerns in regards to the recent outbreak of the pest commonly known as the armyworm in western New York. These pests are devastating a wide range of crops from wheat to corn to specialty crops, leaving farmers field's decimated. As New York farmers have already suffered major losses from late season frosts this year, it is critical that the USDA leverages its extensive resources to assist farmers by elevating the armyworm to the agricultural research service (ARS) priority list of pests and to have APHIS produce a report including an updated guidance for pest control.

New York is no stranger to the destruction of the armyworm as it had devastating effects on crops during the 2008 growing season. The current infestation of armyworms migrated from southern states this spring in record numbers, which has resulted in one of the highest known populations of the pest to date. They move quickly from field to field in enormous numbers devouring crops in their path. Many of the state's wheat, hay, sweet corn, Swiss chard, rye, and lettuce fields have been destroyed due to the massive infestation this year.

I commend the USDA for its enduring commitment in battling pests and invasive species that have plagued our nation's farmers. Past contributions of resources under the NIFA program to universities such as Cornell for research have proved to be most valuable, but in light of the increasingly widespread infestations of the armyworm this year it is critical that USDA devotes additional resources to combat this devastating pest. I urge the ARS to elevate the armyworm to its priority species in order to direct research resources devoted to pest control to studying the armyworm. Additionally, I urge APHIS to produce a report investigating the current extent of the infestation and update of the 2005 guidance on armyworms taking into consideration new prevention, eradication, and control methods.

Thank you for your attention to this request and commitment to battling pests that plague our nation's farmers. Please feel free to contact my Washington office.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator


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