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How The California Grape Industry Eradicated A Huge Pest Problem

pest-contro-grapes-orange-county-caWhen dealing with agricultural pest and disease issues, it is rare to hear success stories that include eradication, but that is what has just happened in California.

In 2009, massive numbers of “European grapevine moths” threatened crops valued at $5.7 billion dollars, including wine and table grapes, berries and some stone fruits. This moth had previously never been seen on the North American continent. Officials began studying the problem in 2010 and managed to trap over 100,000 adult male moths on more than 3,800 traps in Napa Valley alone. This pest was also found in other California regions, including the San Joaquin Valley, the North Coast, Central Coast and Nevada County.

No one knows how the grapevine moth got into the U.S. but thousands of them could be seen flying around vineyards during the year of 2010. Grapes infested with these pests were turning black and when you closely examined this damaged fruit, you could see moth larvae living inside. 52,170 acres of California vineyards had to be put under quarantine.

Researchers from the U.S., Europe and South America began their investigation to find a solution for this serious problem.

These researchers encouraged growers to start by disposing of infested fruit. This meant that some growers had to destroy their entire crop and dump tons of fruit.

The next step was to have the growers install special traps laced with moth-attracting pheromones. Their goal was to catch as many male moths as possible so they could be stopped from reproducing.

Lastly, experts recommended that growers use low-risk pesticides on their crops, such as insect growth regulators (these act as birth control for insects), spinosins (derived from a naturally occurring organisms) and Bacillus thuringiensis (a microbe naturally found in soil).

A year later, trap counts dropped to only 113 moths caught in the entire year of 2011. Trap counts later dropped to 77 in 2012. Only 40 were caught in 2013 and none of these insects have been found in traps since 2014!

Seven years and 65 million dollars later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has declared the eradication of the grapevine moth a success.

“This is a very significant accomplishment,” said Tony Linegar, the agricultural commissioner for Sonoma County. “Anytime you propose to eradicate an insect from the continent, that is a very lofty goal.”