Stink bug could inflict $50 million in damage to Skagit Valley fruit crops

BURLINGTON, Wash. -- Selling Skagit Valley's prized fruits and vegetables is a family business for Joe Charier in Burlington.

"I've been doing this all my life. I enjoy it," Chartier said.

Based on his books, berries make up about 75 percent of his sales.

But just a few miles away, farmers are facing a fierce fight with the brown marmorated stink bug. It has striped antennae and a saw-like tongue that pierces fruit to suck out the juice. In return, it injects bacteria.

The insect, originally from Asia, hit the East Coast first. Farmers were caught off guard and crops were decimated. Now, it's heading west, and experts say crop losses in Skagit County could top $50 million -- nearly 20 percent of all crops in the county.

"Across, Washington statewide, we're talking into the billions of dollars," said WSU extension director Don McMoran.

In some sense of luck, local farmers have faced this fear before. Six years ago, the spotted wing drosophila (a fruit fly species) posed the same kind of threat. Word spread before it could. Now, McMoran says farmers are managing it.

"It's a success story," he said. "We want to have that same kind of success story with brown marmorated stink bug."

McMoran says two people say they've seen the bug in Skagit County, but no one has caught it.

"It could be the home run. It could put us on the map," said McMoran.

Chartier says raising prices to cover any loses leaves him with a bad taste.

"I don't want to, but it's kind of how society is and how stuff goes," he said.

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