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Scientists, officials guard against new pests

USDA ARS GL0923-ARS-pests.jpg
The glassy-winged sharpshooter is the culprit behind the spread of Pierce's disease among grapevines. The insect infects the plant with the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa when it feeds on the sap from the xylem tissue of a vine.
The threat has always been an important issue and climate change may accelerate these introductions.

There's an annual event called "National Invasive Species Awareness Week" although grape growers who battle vineyard pests have to do so daily. 

The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources organization tries to aid in this fight with presentations like a webinar on New Pests in California and how to report them.

As this year's moderator Jim Farrar, who also directs the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, noted: “Growers, fieldworkers, and their Pest Control Advisors are the front line for detection of new agricultural pests.  The threat from new pests to California ag has always been an important issue and climate change may accelerate those introductions over the coming years.”

Much of the webinar information dealt with the step-by-step methodology of finding and submitting new pests.

Speaker Linda Pinfold, Deputy Agricultural Commissioner at the San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, lauded the front line of defensive efforts in protecting the state from exotic invasive species.  She defined ‘pests’ as those “new to or not widely-distributed in the area or locality in which the pest exists.”

In other words, if you find it and can’t identify it because its new and strange, send it off to the CDFA Plant Pest Diagnostics Lab for them to ascertain and confirm if it is “dangerous or detrimental to the agricultural industry so that appropriate regulatory actions, based on diagnostic results, can be taken, including abatement and/or destruction.”

Pinfold and Farrar were quick to point out two such efforts impacting the grape-growing community.  “European grapevine moth is an exemplary history of working well together in which all parties involved cooperated in a collaborative effort to contain and eventually eradicate this pest,” Pinfold said.

Quick response

After it was first detected in 2009 in a Napa Valley vineyard with subsequent spread to 11 counties, CDFA officials congratulated growers for their quick response that lead to EGVM eradication: “Keys to success were early detection, rapid response, and strong collaboration between growers and local, state, and federal officials. Their sustained cooperative efforts ultimately achieved the goal,” she said.

Farrar cited an as-yet-unresolved pest problem in which all hands are working toward its demise --- the glassy-winged sharpshooter, carrier of Pierce’s Disease, first identified in California Wine Country over a century ago.

For years, the insect that can eat ten times its body weight in a single hour, spread slowly via the blue-green sharpshooter until things exploded in 1990 when the glassy-winged sharpshooter was discovered for the first time in Ventura County.

It spread like a wildfire in dry grass, through Temecula into Vacaville just outside Napa.  Sprays and natural sharpshooter egg predators have been employed and all plants entering Napa and Sonoma Counties are inspected for the pest in the hopes of eradicating it before it becomes an even greater menace to wine country.

Two other speakers, CDFA entomologist Kyle Beucke and CDFA plant pathologist Heather Scheck spoke to the issues of pest sampling and confirmation protocol leading up to eradication or suppression efforts while Tania Brenes-Arguedas of the Western Plant Diagnostic Network told how University of California laboratories helped in the finding of new pest threats.

“Not only is it a smart agricultural move, it’s a legal requirement that suspect pests be reported to your respective county agricultural commissioner,” she said.  “Not reporting can result in the problem growing before someone else might notice, while early reporting enables regulators to move speedily to contain and manage the problem.”

Procedural issues covered, moderator Farrar urged that no one let down their guard in pest patrols of the vineyard where constant vigilance is required.

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