NC officials set up pest survey to protect sweet potatoes

Why aren’t sweet potato weevils moving off of the Carolina coast to the plethora of sweet potato farms further inland? That’s what researchers from the NC Department of Agriculture want to find out.

Specialists found the weevil near Carolina Beach in the early 1980s, and since then it has stayed in the area and has not moved toward the state’s coastal plain, where most of the sweet potato fields lie. So researchers are setting out nearly 500 traps to track the weevil population and to see what the weevils are feeding on.

Some scientists speculate that the weevils might be surviving on morning glory, and because of the area’s relatively warm climate, might be overwintering there as well. However, sweet potatoes aren’t commonly grown on the coast, so researchers want to know what’s keeping the weevils from moving further inland.

In addition to reassuring sweet potato farmers, scientists plan to release sterile weevils in the areas where weevil populations are high. Because that type of biocontrol is expensive, scientists don’t want to release sterile weevils in areas where there are no weevils for them to mate with.

The state has already set up quarantines in Pleasure Island in New Hanover County and Caswell Beach in Brunswick County. The quarantines restrict movement of sweet potatoes, other tubular plants and any possible weevil host plants between the coast and currently non-infested areas.

Although weevils can’t physically move very far on their own, if they’re introduced in an area with sweet potato fields, they are prolific breeders and can multiply very quickly.

The weevil burrows into the plant’s stems and roots, rotting the potato. Specialists with the NC Department of Agriculture say that once the insect has established itself in a field, it can wipe out the entire industry in a very short period of time.

Read the original news article at StarNewsOnline.

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