California vineyards have a new pest to worry about. Late last month, a single light brown apple moth, an insect that feeds on everything from peaches to citrus to grapevines, was found in a residential area on the outskirts of the town of Sonoma. Agriculture officials had been watching for infestations since several moths were found in urban areas last year. But this is the first discovery of the pest in wine country, so close to prestigious vineyards.
According to Sonoma County agriculture commissioner Lisa Correia, the insect was the only one found in the county so far. "One more find would see the county declared 'infested,' and a quarantine would be imposed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) on the area, which would include vineyards," she said.
The light brown apple moth, native to Australia, was first found in Berkeley, Calif., in February 2007, and has been of concern to legislators and state and federal agriculture officials because of its potential to damage California's agriculture industry. The insect feeds on more than 200 fruit and vegetable plants, including wine grapes and some of California's other important products, such as avocados and tomatoes. The larvae can feed on leaves, shoots and on grape clusters, making them prone to rot.
Since March 2007, the insect has been found in 11 California counties, including Napa, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Monterey counties.
"I'm concerned for two reasons. One is that we don't want to have to treat for it. But more immediate are the quarantine issues," said Steve Thomas, vineyard manager at Kunde Estate winery and vineyards. "While growers would still be able to move their fruit into other counties, they would have to be certified 'clean' by county agriculture officials first." In other words, if a quarantine is imposed, growers shipping grapes out of the area would need to have a county agriculture agent certify that the shipments are free of pests at the time trucks are being loaded, which would slow down the movement of fruit.
Currently the pest has been found only in nurseries and urban areas, not vineyards, said Larry Bettiga, University of California Agricultural Extension viticulture advisor for Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. And officials remain optimistic about the threat to area vineyards.
"We've been trapping for a whole year, so the possibilities of a large infestation here are not terribly likely at this point," said Correia.
The insect has been targeted as a priority for eradication by the CDFA for 2008 and 2009.