Japanese beetle infestation threatens Yakima Valley growers

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Thousands of Japanese beetles have infested residential areas in the Lower Yakima Valley and if they spread to crops in rural areas, could devastate local growers.

The number of Japanese beetles has exploded in the Grandview area — from three reported sightings last year to more than 23,000 caught this year in traps spread throughout the Lower Yakima Valley.

“The one silver lining is that most of the beetles have been found within the city limits of Grandview itself,” said Karla Salp, Public Engagement Specialist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “We have had some single catches out in the rural areas, but we have not found any specifically on crops themselves yet.”

Japanese beetles are not native to Washington and attack more than 300 different types of crops, including hops, apples and grapes, which make up a large part of the county’s agricultural production. Salp said if the population continues to grow at the same rate, the pests could spread to those crops and devastate them.

“Japanese beetle females — each one can lay up to 130 eggs per season, so you can potentially have 100 times more beetles than you had the previous season,” Salp said.

Salp said if the invasive species does move on to area crops and continues to spread throughout Eastern Washington, there will be far-reaching consequences. She said farmers will have to increase their pesticide usage to clear out the insects.

Lower Yakima Valley Japanese Beetle

Credit: David Cappaert/Bugwood.org

“We’ll also be looking at different quarantines on our products for moving them out of the state,” Salp said. “It’ll make it much more costly and time consuming to export certain products at certain times of the year.”

WSDA officals plan to start treating properties in Grandview in the spring to try to get rid of the pests, but Salp said there’s no quick solution.

“If we can eradicate it, it’s going to take probably five to 10 years,” Salp said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

The WSDA is asking the public to report sightings of Japanese beetles at agr.wa.gov/beetles, by emailing PestProgram@agr.wa.gov, or calling 1-800-443-6684.

“They have their kind of a copper and metallic green color, but one of the most identifying marks is they have these little white tufts of hair, five on each side and then two on the end,” Salp said.