Crop Protection: The Box Tree Moth Infestation In South Carolina Could Lead To Agricultural Damages

July 14, 2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has recently confirmed the presence of the notorious box tree moth, Cydalima perspectalis, in the continental United States. As a result, the agency has initiated actions in collaboration with state partners and the industry to limit the spread and eradicate the pest known for its capabilities to invade and bring down crop yields.

Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) is an invasive species infamous for bringing down crop yields across the world. Originally from East Asia, the moth spread through the native population and eventually was shipped to North America.

How did it get to the U.S.?

The first infestation in the continent was recognized in a box population of Toronto in 2018. Earlier this year, several nurseries have inadvertently shipped infested species of the box to nurseries in South Carolina. The detection in South Carolina is being treated as a regulatory mishap, and the moth is expected not to have escaped into the landscape. The authorities in South Carolina are investigating plant shipments into and out of the South Carolina nursery to find out if the infested species have been inadvertently sold to customers. They will also monitor the nursery's surroundings to make sure that the moth has not escaped. If the authorities find that the species have escaped, survey and eradication efforts will follow. 

Other than South Carolina, a distribution center in Tennessee and nurseries in five other states (Michigan, New York, Ohio, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) have also received shipments of infested plants. Efforts to determine the status and possibility of escape are underway.

How to Manage the Pest?

If left unchecked, the box tree moth is known to damage and potentially kill boxwood plants significantly. Experts say that it might effectively manage the pest using Dipel, a biological insecticide that contains a naturally occurring bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.). Dipel’s active ingredient is safe for humans and pets. Bt-based products can be found at most retail nurseries and garden supply stores and can be applied by a licenced spray contractor. Chemical distributors in the country who deal with organic pesticides can expect to see an increase in demand. It should be noted that many chemical pesticides are futile against the spread and can end up harming the environment. Therefore, the industry should make sure to determine the most appropriate solutions that target only the pest. The present understanding is that organic pesticides work best against the pest, although research is still underway.

In May, US APHIS also released a Federal Order banning the importation of host plants from Canada. The agency is also coordinating closely with the affected states to find and destroy the imported plants, trace and determine potential spread, provide box tree moth traps and prepare outreach materials for State agricultural departments. 

Chemical companies could have a key role to play in the production of suitable pesticides in the eradication effort. Companies and associated raw material importers associated with Bt and related pesticide ingredients should keep a close watch on the developments related to the infestation.

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