By Sandy Alexander
WASHINGTON – Maryland agriculture officials will be looking over leaves of clover a little more carefully this spring, after discovering a new clover- eating weevil in four counties last year.
Agriculture officials are unsure what problems, if any, the one-sixteenth- of-an-inch-long blue clover weevil will cause for farmers who let their cattle graze on clover in pastures and who grow the plant as part of their rotation of crops.
But state entomologists are going to watch it closely.
“Anytime a new species gets into an area where it does not belong, it can become a problem,” particularly in an area where it does not have any natural enemies, said Dick Bean, survey entomologist for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
State officials last year mounted a seven-county weevil hunt and discovered the blue clover weevil for the first time in the state in Caroline, Cecil, Harford and Kent counties, Bean said.
This year, the department plans to take clover samples from the rest of the state and determine how widely the pest is distributed.
Pennsylvania officials first noticed the European weevil in their state in 1996. It does not seem to be harming white clover, which tends to spring up on its own in farm pastures and yards, said Jim Stimmel, a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture entomologist. But it has done some damage to red clover, which farmers harvest and include in cattle feed, he said.
Red and white clovers also grow in Maryland where they are considered important to the cattle and dairy industry, said Malcolm Sarna, chief of the turf and seed section of the Maryland Agriculture Department.
The weevil has been spotted in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Virginia, Stimmel said, but the real mystery is how it got to the United States from its original home in Europe.
Another question is what to do with the bugs if they do turn out to be a threat. So far, there haven’t been any pesticide trials involving the blue clover weevils, and officials in Pennsylvania have not determined the best way to control them, Stimmel said.
“It is probably wider spread” than four counties, said Bean, but he is hopeful it will prove to be “just another insect” like so many others that farmers have to worry about.