James City County farmer stays vigilant as experts work to slow spread of threatening invasive species

Posted at 12:23 AM, Jun 15, 2021

JAMES CITY COUNTY, Va. – Mary and Bill Apperson’s Christmas trees and berry farm in James City County is full of several crops, including rows and rows of blueberries that are virtually pesticide-free, meaning you can pick them straight off the bush and pop them right into your mouth.

“Mary and I take pride in raising fruit like this that’s clean, nutritious and a reasonable price,” said Bill Apperson who owns MillFarm with his wife and family.

An invasive species, however, could become a threat to MillFarm and other fruit farms in Hampton Roads and surrounding areas.

The spotted lanternfly is a nuisance and could destroy fruit, especially grapes and pose devastating impacts on farmers.

“The lanternfly is just going to be another troublesome insect for us,” Bill Apperson said. “We will take care of it. We will not let it destroy our crops.”

The highly invasive insect from China has quickly spread from Winchester in northern Virginia to Prince William County near D.C.

Virginia Tech Entomologist Eric Day said the spotted lanternfly could make its way to Hampton Roads in about four to six years or sooner, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the pest could spread.

“It’s a very good hitchhiker, so it gets moved by commerce,” Day said. “It gets moved from all kinds of goods, trucks.”

Day said the pesky insect could cause an infestation if it’s not caught right away and treated with pesticides. He and his team are working with other universities to better understand the bug and how to control its spread.

“The sooner it’s detected, the better off we are,” said Day.

For now, the Appersons, who are third generation farmers, are staying vigilant.

“It’s like a 24/7 job because if it’s not an insect, it’s a disease that’s after you,” Bill Apperson said. “It’s not easy.”

They’re prepared for a fight for when the time comes and are hoping they won’t have to raise their prices just to protect their crops.

“We pride ourselves on almost a pesticide-free farm and that means we may be pushed into using something that we wouldn’t normally use to control this insect,” said Bill Apperson. “It would grieve us immensely if we would have to raise our prices because of this foreign insect, but we will not let it hurt our crops. I can tell you that.”

If spotted lanternflies are detected, report it to the Virginia Department of Forestry, the U.S. or state Department of Agriculture, or local governments.

To learn more about the spotted lanternfly and the work to monitor the insect’s spread, click here.