Soybean crops threatened by South's new 'kudzu bug'
First, the South was plagued by kudzu, the all-smothering, fast-spreading vine from Japan.
Now the region must contend with the spread of the so-called "kudzu bug," another Asian import that not only eats troublesome, hard-to-eradicate kudzu (good), but also has a taste for America's lucrative soybean crop (bad).
The Associated Press reports that the bug, Megacopta cribari, was discovered near Atlanta a couple of years ago, and has spread throughout Georgia and into the Carolinas and Alabama.
For soybean farmers, it can mean crop losses of more than 20%.
The robust, pea-sized creature, a member of the stink bug family, could spread "anywhere in the United States that we grow soybeans," Tracie Jenkins, a University of Georgia plant geneticist, told AP.
That should be alarming to a domestic agricultural industry that has seen the value of its soybean production jump from $10.8 billion in 1984 to $31.7 billion in 2009, according to the American Soybean Assn.
What will this mean for the evolving cuisine of the South, where crafty, vanguard vegetarians have created a tofu dish that tastes a lot like pan-fried chicken?
And what impact will it have on the Southern gothic aesthetic, which counts kudzu among its most enduring cliches-slash-metaphors?
Hard to say -- although it's a lot easier to imagine a South without tofu than a South without cliches.
-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta
Photo: Clemson University entomologist Jeremy Greene shows a soybean plant riddled with kudzu bugs from a test plot in Blackville, S.C. An Asian import, the kudzu bug could take a toll on U.S. soybean crops. Credit: Allen Breed / Associated Press