ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
If you live along the East Coast, there's a pretty good chance that there's something lurking in your attic or behind your curtains. I'm talking about stink bugs - invasive insects from Asia that smell terrible when you crush them. They're a nuisance for many of us but they're a serious pest for farmers. And while farmers got a reprieve from the bugs last year, reporter Sabri Ben-Achour of member station WAMU reports that this year could get ugly.
SABRI BEN-ACHOUR, BYLINE: A year and a half ago when I talked to Bob Black, he was not in a good place.
BOB BLACK: This thing is going to put a big chapter in my book of life. I've never had anything affect me like this.
BEN-ACHOUR: Black runs Catoctin Mountain Orchards in Thurmont, Maryland, and like farmers across the region, he was being assaulted by brown marmorated stinkbugs. They disfigure all kinds of crops, ranging from corn to peaches. One year, they got Black's apples pretty bad.
BLACK: One of our late varieties, Pink Lady, which a lot of people like - that's the latest apple - we had up to 50 percent damage on that.
BEN-ACHOUR: Fast forward to this past year and things were better but...
BLACK: Unfortunately, they're still around here. And we do have some damage again but nothing like the 2010, which I never want to go through that again.
BEN-ACHOUR: Stink bug attacks can be impossible to predict. They can come out of nowhere, because they can live just about anywhere - a wheat field, a patch of woods. Overall, though, 2012 wasn't so bad. There are two reasons for that. One, an early spring gave crops a head start against the bugs. And, two, a bunch of the bugs died in 2011. Chris Bergh is an entomologist at Virginia Tech.
CHRIS BERGH: For some reason that we don't fully understand, there was high nymphal mortality in the fall of 2011. So that translated into fewer adult bugs in spring 2012.
BEN-ACHOUR: That's little comfort, though, because like he said nobody's entirely sure why they all died. And besides, they're back. Tracy Leskey is an entomologist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.
TRACY LESKEY: What was interesting was those populations have essentially recovered and we're seeing populations that are about six times larger than they were the previous year.
BEN-ACHOUR: They're hibernating now - in barns and fields and people's attics. When they emerge this spring, farmers will have a few weapons ready - new pheromone traps to give an early warning and some pesticides the EPA's approved on an emergency basis. Researchers are still considering bringing in the bug's natural parasites over from China. But until a more permanent solution is found, farmers will be keeping their eyes on their fields, and their spray tanks full. For NPR News, I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.