University of Maine Experimental Farm Leading Fight Against Fruit Fly


Situated atop Norris Hill on U.S. Route 202 in the western part of Monmouth, Maine, Highmoor Farm has been a center for research into apple growing, other fruits and vegetables, and crop pests for more than a century.

Highmoor includes a large farmhouse, two large barns, two laboratories, a shop, 10 cold storage lockers, two hoop houses and a greenhouse on 278 acres, with 17 acres of apple orchards.

Now the University of Maine Agricultural Experiment Station is leading the fight against a newly discovered strain of fruit fly that poses a serious threat to Maine's berry crops.

David Handley, an extension agent who has worked at Highmoor since 1983, is behind the efforts to stop spotted wing drosophila, the breed of fruit fly that originated in Asia and then migrated to the American South. It first turned up in the Northeast in the summer of 2011.

"It's fairly easy to kill, if you have the right chemicals," he said. "A problem is you might want to use a pesticide at the same time that you want to harvest the fruit."

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service also has a presence at Highmoor Farm, doing outreach and education with about 200 commercial growers in Maine. That research now is centered on the newly discovered strain of fruit fly.

Greg Koller, superintendent at Highmoor Farm since 2004, lives year-round at Highmoor Farm with his wife, Sheri, and their two high school-age sons. Koller said scab tolerance in cucumbers was an important vegetable feature that was developed at Highmoor Farm. Brock apples, a sweet and juicy variety that ripens in early October, were also developed at Highmoor.

"We research integrated pest management," Koller said. "It used to be that people sprayed on a schedule, no matter what. Now we try to spread it out and only spray when we need to. With this new fruit fly, we hope to use other natural enemies of the fly."

During the summer, Handley uses four University of Maine students who go out on the road to berry farms to check on traps that are set for drosophila flies and other pests.

Many pests can't survive winter in Maine, Handley said, but drosophila might be able to do so.

Handley said the pesticide spinosad, derived from a fungus, has so far proved most effective against the flies.

"We can control it, but it's a lot of effort and a lot of cost," Handley said. "It's a new pest, so we haven't developed alternatives for this. I don't think there's an easy answer for this."