Some Latin American countries that trade with Southeastern states are worried that kudzu bugs may be headed south of the border, Southeast Farm Press reports.
In February, officials in Honduras discovered dead kudzu bugs in a shipping container from Georgia. This led the country to step up inspections of cargo from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, according to the publication.
The kudzu bug only arrived in the Western Hemisphere in 2009, coming into Atlanta from Asia. But since then it has spread across at least 230 counties in four states.
It’s now found in all 46 South Carolina counties, more than 140 counties in Georgia, more than 40 North Carolina counties, along with parts of Alabama. Entomologists have been astounded by the insect’s rapid movement.
The bugs, known in most parts of the world as bean plataspids, look like boxy brown ladybugs and emit a foul-smelling secretion when threatened. While they are known to eat kudzu, they can also ravage soybeans, along with other legumes, according to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
University of Georgia researchers scheduled an informational meeting late last month to share with Latin American officials what they have learned about the kudzu bug since its arrival in the Southeast.
The meeting was prompted by Honduran government concerns over two separate container shipments of poultry products from Georgia that reportedly contained dead kudzu bug adults, said Wayne Gardner, an entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the meeting’s organizer.
“The second discovery prompted Honduran officials to halt receipt of all container imports from the states of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee,” he said.
More than 4,000 containers from these states were reportedly held at Honduran ports, Gardner added.
“This stance was eased within a few days when Honduran laborers were being sent home as there was no cotton yarn and goods for manufacturers,” Gardner told Southeast Farm Press. “Ten percent of all containers from these states are now being inspected, while 5 percent of all containers from other parts of the U.S. are routinely inspected.”
Gardner said the country’s cotton industry was hit hard hit by the trade sanction. Strict guidelines that require containers be cleaned before being loaded with cotton products have already helped mitigate problems of transporting the kudzu bug, Gardner said.
Because the kudzu bug feeds on legume or bean plants it has the potential to affect major food sources in countries like Honduras.
“Our initial concern is over beans because they are a main staple and a source for protein here,” said Guillermo Alvarado, executive director of the International Regional Organization of Plant and Animal Health.
“Hundreds of thousands of acres of beans are grown by small farmers, and this pest would create an additional burden to these farmers and become a food security risk for us.”
Alvarado’s organization’s major objective is to protect animal and plant health in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
In addition to hitching rides in cargo shipments, officials fear kudzu bugs may leave the US on commercial passenger jets, he said.
“Kudzu bugs have been intercepted in the passenger area and baggage compartments of several flights originating from Atlanta with arrivals in Guatemala and Honduras,” Gardener said.
Honduran officials “have asked for some sort of protocol to address this problem. USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is working with airport authorities to develop some sort of protocols to address these risks,” Southeast Farm Press reported.