HAMMONTON — Applying common table sugar with many chemical insecticides makes them work better against a new blueberry pest called the spotted wing drosophila, according to research by entomologist Cesar Rodriguez-Saona.

He and several other scientists shared their data Thursday with more than 100 growers at Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Blueberry Open House at Kerri Brooke Caterers.

“Sugar increases their effectiveness by at least 15 percent,” said Rodriguez-Saona, of Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station near Chatsworth, Burlington County. “Not only does it kill more flies, but reduces the infestation (of larvae in berries).”

He said it works by stimulating the flies to feed more and take in more insecticide. The Asian pest first appeared in California in 2008 and arrived in South Jersey in 2011.

Rodriguez-Saona said he will continue to study the sugar practice, to see if it may have a down side, such as killing too many beneficial insects.

The farmers in attendance at the all-day event, organized by Atlantic County Agricultural Agent Gary Pavlis, were mainly from South Jersey. A few came from as far away as Pennsylvania, Maryland and Vermont to hear about new ways to fight pests and weeds, and grow healthier plants.

Brad Majek, a specialist in weed science at Rutgers, gave an overview of new herbicidal products and how they have tested on field weeds, some of which have developed resistance to commonly used herbicides such as Roundup.

Hammonton farmer Anthony Berenato said Majek gave him the information he needed to know which new products will be most effective for him.

James Polashock, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said his research has shown that stem blight, once thought to be caused by a single fungus, has at least three fungal causes that require different chemical treatments for best results.

He gave farmers detailed instructions on how to handle early signs of the blight in their fields, which included pruning off infected branches and burning them.

Atlantic Blueberry General Manager Denny Doyle said the stem blight problem has been steadily getting worse, and farmers are glad to have researchers focus on it.

Brenda Travers, of Upper Township and Vermont, has a “pick your own” farm near Manchester, Vt. She said she deals with a pest South Jersey farmers don’t have to worry about: black bears.

They lay on the plants to knock the berries off and eat them, she said, and usually visit under the cover of night. She hasn’t figured out how to dissuade them, she said.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.