Invasive moths plague growers
This is the Sonoma Valley quarantine zone for the light brown apple moth.
With any luck, Sonoma will be out from under quarantine from the European grapevine moth by the end of the year. But there is still no end in sight to the quarantine for the light brown apple moth.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), both invasive pests pose a threat to Sonoma’s winegrape crops, among others. The European grapevine moth was first detected in Sonoma County in Kenwood, in March 2010, and is known to have consumed a Napa vineyard. But experts continue to debate the risk posed by the light brown apple moth, which was first detected in Sonoma County in Boyes Hot Springs in 2008. To date, no damage to grapevines has been reported from the little moth commonly referred to as LBAM during five years of quarantines.
“It’s really more of a nursery pest,” said Tony Linegar, Sonoma County’s Agricultural Commissioner, who added that, like growers, nurseries are under quarantine as well.
The quarantines require businesses to follow strict regulations, which includes everything from covering trucks with tarps to prevent contamination when moving plant products, to treating vineyards with pesticides if a European grapevine moth is found within 500 meters of the property. After so many years under quarantine, it’s a dance that most producers know well.
“I think this year, people are pretty aware what’s expected of them when it comes to the regulations,” Linegar said.
And hopefully, this will be the last year Valley growers will have to worry about restrictions required for the European grapevine moth. Not a single moth has been detected in the 8,000 traps that have been placed across the county in 2012, down from nine discovered in 2011 and 59 in 2010.
“The current status is that the county is eligible to be deregulated by the end of this year,” Linegar said. “Assuming we don’t find any more moths.”
After first detecting the moth in 2009 in Napa County, federal and state agencies were quick to implement an eradication plan, which seems to have been effective, as evidenced by the rapid decrease in moths detected. Napa County, which had the largest infestation in the state, went from more than 100,000 moths discovered in 2010 to 77 so far this year.
“The eradication program, it’s been a great success story,” Linegar said, adding that his department has received about $1.3 million to manage the program from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), money that is funneled through CDFA to cover the cost of setting and checking traps, working with growers on compliance agreements and other expenses. A call to CDFA was not returned by presstime. USDA has committed more than $31 million to fighting the pest in California since it was detected.
The agency is committed to eradicating the species so that it does not threaten agricultural trade agreements with other states and countries.
The light brown apple moth, however, does not offer the same success story. Despite an ambitious treatment program, including the controversial use of aerial sprays in Santa Cruz and Monterey, the pest persists in California.
“I think everybody has come to grips that we’re not going to eradicate the light brown apple moth,” Linegar said.
He added, “There’s a lot of speculation about just how long the light brown apple moth has been here,” when asked why eradication was possible for the European grapevine moth and not LBAM.
Numerous entomologists have argued since the pest was first discovered that the light brown apple moth has likely been in the state for some time, perhaps decades, based on the massive number of moths found in traps across the state.
Linegar said his office received $50,000 from USDA to oversee the light brown apple moth quarantine this year. Since 2007, CDFA has spent more than $8 million on the pest, with more than $97 million in costs footed by USDA. Although USDA has committed more than $6 million to fight the pest this year, Gov. Jerry Brown cut off state funding for the apple moth program, which is forcing state and federal agriculture officials to reconsider how to handle the quarantines with limited resources.
“That’s being figured out as we speak,” Linegar said. “It could get to a point where growers who want to ship outside the quarantined area will have to incur some of the costs of those inspections.”
The Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner keeps growers and other affected businesses up to date on the latest requirements of the quarantine and other pertinent information about the invasive pests at sonoma-county.org/agcomm.