YUMA, Ariz. — Another invasive insect is creating headaches for California — and Arizona — desert grower-shippers.

New pest gnaws on desert winter vegetables

The culprit is the bagrada, a beetle native to Africa, India and Pakistan and related to the relatively harmless stinkbug, which is common in California. The first U.S. discovery of the pest was in the Los Angeles area two years ago. It surfaced in the California/Arizona desert late last year, grower-shippers said.

“The bug hits the cole crops like broccoli and cauliflower,” said Jeff Percy, vice president of desert production for Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms. “Many average stands from Coachella to Yuma will probably produce 75% to 80% of normal due to the bug.”

The bagrada is fairly easy to control with pesticides, Percy said.

“It’s elusive and seems to blow in and out of the fields,” he said. “Timing is the key; spray early.”

Some desert areas have, so far, avoided the bagrada. It seems to have jumped over the Thermal area, where Baloian Farms, Fresno, grows its winter cauliflower crop, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.

There was minor bug-caused damage to some D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California broccoli in the Holtville area, said Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

“We were hit by three things to start the winter season: excessive heat during planting, some bad seed and insect pressure,” she said. “Things are going to be a little bit rough for the first few weeks of the season.”

In both the adult and nymph stages, the bagrada bugs suck sap from young leaves, which result in white patches on the edges of leaves. The pest seems to prefer young seedlings, grower-shippers said.

“It also eats the center out of the plants,” Percy said. “They leave the plant with no head or with a bunch of small heads that we can’t pack.