New moth may end pest threat in state
USDA to test sterile moth release, possibly in Carneros
A new, environmentally-friendly tool may be on the horizon for fighting the light-brown apple moth in Napa County — and the rest of the state.
The United States Department of Food and Agriculture will begin testing the release of sterile light-brown apple moths early this summer. The study might be done in Carneros, where the destructive pest was found last year.
“It is not absolutely certain the testing will be done in Carneros” said Larry Hawkins, a spokesman for the USDA. “But we are looking at Carneros.”
Releases of the sterile light-brown apple moth will likely be done in a small portion of the quarantine area where the moth has been trapped, south of Highway 121 in Napa County.
USDA has a lot of unanswered questions on how to release the sterile moths. For example, from the initial test, the agency hopes to learn about the health of the sterile insect in the environment, how far it travels and if the best method of distribution is from the ground or through the air. The agency is seeking close coordination between agricultural officials and property owners.
Releasing sterile insects is not a new idea: It has been used previously to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly. The science has been around since the 1930s and ‘40s, according to Hawkins.
Hawkins said the USDA’s release of sterile bugs will be on a small scale. If the releases go well, the bug will eventually disbursed in the 13 California counties where there have been infestations, according to Hawkins.
Hawkins said it could take several years before the project grows that ambitious.
Greg Clark, assistant agricultural commissioner for Napa County said, “We think this is a good thing.
“We believe winegrapes are a good environment to do this study because the crop is generally uniform” Clark said.
Clark said the wine country is being seriously considered for the release of sterile moths because the winegrape industry is “supportive of developing the least intrusive solution to dealing with the light-brown apple moth. Our industry is important locally, nationally and worldwide.”
Dave Whitmer, Napa County Agriculture Commissioner, told the Napa County Board of Supervisor’s on Tuesday that there are no active pest populations in the county. But the quarantine remains in place.
At the same time, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D- St. Helena, has organized an ad hoc group of about 30 people from Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties to talk openly about how to deal with the light-brown apple moth. Evans is interested in bringing together a diverse group of farmers, Ag officials, environmentalists and others to determine where a consensus can be reached on defeating the moth.
“Noreen and the rest of us saw what happened in Monterey and Santa Cruz of the aerial application of pheromones,” Whitmer said — referring to public outcry against spraying and lawsuits challenging government strategies. “I believe this is a significant issue for Napa County and we should do whatever we can to keep it from getting established here. The bottom line is we have to do something.”
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