It’s Japanese beetle season and UPS Airlines is in full battle mode to prevent the destructive pest from hopping on a plane for a ride out West.
Japanese beetles, which were accidentally introduced to the U.S. more than a century ago, cause massive crop and plant damage each year. They feed on the roots of grasses and foliage of more than 300 species of ornamental and agricultural plants. The insects tend to hatch in large numbers and when they congregate can quickly defoliate a plant.
The beetles are unable to fly across the Rocky Mountains, but sometimes get transported on aircraft to the West Coast where they pose a big threat to fruit and vegetable farms.
UPS (NYSE: UPS) has “bug buster” teams working daily at its Worldport hub in Louisville, Kentucky, from June through September to prevent Japanese beetles from catching a ride to destinations such as Ontario, California, and Portland, Oregon. Western coastal states produce 60% of the produce and flowers in the U.S.
The bugs are most common in Louisville and UPS gateways in Philadelphia and Des Moines, Iowa, according to a company infographic shared with FreightWaves. Ninety-eight employees on the day shift are on beetle patrol in Louisville.
The bug busters place large nets over K-loaders — the hydraulic platforms used to lift or lower containers carried on big aircraft – and crew stairs. They also are equipped with an industrial vacuum that sucks up the pests, Mike Mangeot, director of strategic communications at UPS Airlines, said in an email exchange.
Other measures UPS takes to protect against transporting the bugs include spraying insecticide and conducting physical inspections of the cargo area. The company reminds workers to keep doors of empty unit load devices on the ramp closed to prevent beetles from entering.
The bug busters at Worldport alone collect about 2,500 Japanese beetles daily and 115,000 per season.
The specter of Japanese beetles infesting rich agricultural farmlands is already becoming a reality. The Washington State Department of Agriculture caught more than 400 Japanese beetles on the first day of checking the recently placed beetle traps. The beetles were primarily collected near public schools in eastern Yakima County near areas where WSDA trapped just three beetles last year.
“Given the damage these beetles can do, finding so many beetles so quickly is definitely concerning,” Greg Haubrich, WSDA Pest Program manager said in a June 30 news release.. “It further illustrates how important this year will be for determining how large of an infestation we have in Washington.”
The situation has already gotten worse, according to the Capital Press. So many of the pests are being caught around the town of Grandview that the Washington Department of Agriculture plans to hang 3,000 more traps to trap as many beetles as possible this summer.
An eradication campaign and quarantines of certain soil and plants that harbor the pests are also on the drawing board, the newspaper reported. Treatment is difficult because the beetles spend most of the year underground, which eliminates the use of aerial spraying.