The mild winter and early start to the current season have increased the need for vigilance against spotted-wing drosophila (SWD), awareness campaign representatives have said.
Growers are being urged to monitor for and take preventive measures against the soft-fruit pest, which was found on farms for the first time late last season.
East Malling Research (EMR) senior entomologist Professor Jerry Cross said: "We already have a national monitoring trap network that we will extend this year. We know from this that SWD is established, particularly in the south of England. It's also in the West Midlands, though not yet in Scotland."
British Summer Fruits chairman Laurence Olins added: "At least 95 per cent of growers are aware of the problem, are taking appropriate action and know how to deal with it, which is a massive change from 12 months ago, so the campaign has worked in that sense. The SWD community is greater than last year, in woodlands and hedgerows, due to the mild winter."
Beyond checking for and responding to immediate threats, the campaign has also put in place a three-year research programme at EMR to develop chemical and hygiene control measures.
Cross explained: "We are looking at how SWD moves from wild hosts into farms, through close monitoring at two sites; at what chemical control methods are available and whether it is developing resistance to them; at how to ensure disposal doesn't give rise to fresh outbreaks; and at synthetic lures to attract and kill them.
"We have close contacts with colleagues in continental Europe and the USA whose experience has informed our strategy. There is no silver bullet, but there is a huge international research effort to find biological solutions. We will have new and improved methods of dealing with it."
Olins added: "We have seen pests come and go - sometimes they just go away. Meanwhile, the effort and joined-up work we have put in here will stand us in good stead for anything else."
- For details of how to monitor for and prevent SWD, see www.hdc.org.uk/swd.
"The industry is four weeks ahead of last year in cropping and from the first or second week in May the supermarkets will have 100 per cent UK strawberries, though with the early start there may be gaps later. We are reckoning on ten per cent more UK strawberries than last year, 20 per cent more raspberries and blueberries, and 100 per cent more cherries."
Laurence Olins, chairman, British Summer Fruits