Fire ant quarantine spreads to Lunenburg and Charlotte

Published 12:38 am Saturday, January 14, 2023

Lunenburg, Charlotte, Dinwiddie, Halifax and Sussex counties have joined the list of localities covered under the Virginia Imported Fire Ant Quarantine.

With the five counties added in December, the quarantine zone now stretches across 12 Virginia counties and 11 cities. The expansion is based on the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ imported fire ant surveys, which indicate the pests have established a presence in affected counties.

VDACS tracks the Solenopsis invicta, Solenopsis richteri and hybrid species of fire ants. The invasive species pose a threat to Virginia’s agricultural and natural resources because they damage crops and agricultural equipment, and may impact livestock and wildlife.

The quarantine was established in 2009 and covers a large portion of Virginia’s Tidewater and Southside regions. The quarantine—and subsequent expansions—are necessary to slow the spread of the pests to non-infested areas of Virginia.

Richard Hite, a tobacco, produce, soybean and cattle farmer in Lunenburg County, said he noticed a lot of fire ant mounds in his soybean fields in 2020 but “did not see many” in 2021. This past year, he noticed sporadic fire ant activity but said he doesn’t think it’s hindered county farmers.

“The mounds here aren’t several feet tall like they are in Texas,” noted Hite, who also serves as president of the Lunenburg County Farm Bureau. But he said even 10-inch mounds found in Virginia fields could potentially cause problems for farm equipment.

Under quarantine provisions, articles capable of transporting fire ants are prohibited from moving outside of the quarantined area unless they’re cleared as being free of imported fire ants. Regulated articles include soil; rhizomes, logs, pulpwood and plants with roots and soil attached; grass sod; used farm and soil-moving equipment; and hay, straw and honeybee hives that have had direct contact with the ground.

Along with businesses in other quarantined counties and cities, those in the newly added counties that ship to locations outside of the quarantine zone must follow U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved treatment and shipping options.

Those options are outlined in the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Quarantine Treatments for Nursery Stock, Grass Sod and Related Materials manual. Businesses may work with VDACS to facilitate shipping regulated articles in compliance with fire ant quarantine terms.

Farmers and landowners may search online to see if their property is located within the quarantine zone. If you suspect an infestation within the quarantine area, exercise caution and call your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office for treatment options.

If you suspect an infestation outside of the quarantine area, contact the VDACS Office of Plant Industry Services immediately.