Local vineyards preparing for the invasion of the Dappled Lanterns

ALBANY – Some Capital Region vineyard owners view the existence of the Mottled Lantern as a war in a foreign land: a distant threat, but one that could invade home soil within a year.

Right now, they can’t do much against an enemy that hasn’t shown up for battle.

In recent years, the spotted lanternfly has become a pretty but pesky thorn in the side of farmers across the country. The invasive pest has also earned itself local kill-on-sight orders, as major metropolitan areas, including New York, attempt to contain the spread of the invasive species.

Now experts are warning that the pest – native to Asia that first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014 – could make inroads into upstate New York within two years, potentially causing millions of dollars of losses to major agricultural industries.

Vineyard owners interviewed by The Times Union offered varying views on what the pest could do to their crops. Local producer Gerry Barnhart said he was on the “very worried” end of the spectrum. Barnhart owns Victory View Vineyard in Washington County and all the grapes he uses to make his wine – one of the main prey of the spotted lanternfly – are grown on his seven-acre farm.

“If and when they get here, they could have a devastating impact on our vineyard,” Barnhart said. “At the moment, there aren’t a lot of good options on how to handle this.”

Other owners said they were too preoccupied with the day-to-day hassles of running a small business to prepare for such a distant enemy.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a priority,” said Jim Besha, owner of Clover Pond Vineyard in Altamont. “The everyday is in the foreground and the spotted lanternfly is somewhere out there. … Famous last words.”

The lantern was first detected in New York on Staten Island two years ago. It has since spread to the other four boroughs of New York and has also been found on Long Island and Syracuse and has started to move up towards the Hudson Valley.

From there, it’s only a matter of time, experts said.

“Wait for the next year or two and we’ll start to see the impact on vineyards across the state,” said Alejandro Calixto, director of New York’s Integrated Pest Management Program, which operates out of New York. ‘Cornell University.

The lantern feeds on several field crops, posing a risk to apples, grapes, maple and others, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

But “the biggest threat we see so far is the grape industry,” Calixto said, pointing to economic estimates from Pennsylvania grape growers showing losses of $50 million to $400 million a year. “It’s going to cost them money.”

New York produces more than 30 million bushels of apples each year, while grapes in New York are valued at an annual harvest of $52.8 million, according to the Department of Agriculture and Markets. Some estimates have even cited over $6 billion in total economic impact from grapes and wineries in the state.

The good news is that experts can make fairly accurate predictions about where the pest is likely to appear in the next few years, using a mapping program monitored by Cornell researchers, Calixto said.

The way forward will rely heavily on prevention and monitoring, Calixto said. Program specialists conduct weekly observations at vineyards across the state and coordinate efforts with local communities and county offices to get the message out: if you see a spotted lanternfly, kill it, then report it. the state.

“Just being ahead of the game with early detection and eradication is what we want to do at this point to slow the spread,” Calixto said.

Some owners even recruit their customers to help them. John Sheehan, owner of Meadowdale Winery in Altamont, said he was handing out cards with photos of the lantern and instructions on how to handle finding the insect.

And while homeowners resign themselves to the impending threat, some also live by the adage “forewarned is forewarned.”

In winter and off-season at the vineyard, Don Dunbar of Middleburgh Winery in Schoharie County said he plans to build up his knowledge of the pest and how best to fight it so he can prepare for it.

“It’s not good…not if you like wine,” Dunbar said. “We’re just going to have to learn to deal with that, I guess.”

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