Spotted lanternfly could devastate Niagara vineyards

Already expecting one of the smallest grape harvests in years, Niagara grape growers are concerned about a potential new problem – an infestation by the spotted lanternfly, an insect that can wreak havoc on crops. .

“In Ontario, we already have enough problems. We lost 70% of our crop this year due to a few cold days in January,” said Bill Redelmeier, owner of Southbrook Organic Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Now the lantern, a very invasive insect, is on the horizon.

With over 100 sightings in Buffalo and infestations as close as Erie County, NY, and Oakland County, Michigan, it’s likely not a question of if the pest will arrive in Ontario, but when.

While Redelmeier hopes the insect won’t be a big deal, he’s well aware of the damage it could cause, especially if it doesn’t quickly develop natural predators.

Still, he hopes the longer it takes to get here, the more likely he will have developed a natural predator.

“It might not be as bad the further you get from the epicenter,” he said.

Although pretty to look at, the lantern has the potential to cause serious damage to the wine industry, not just in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but throughout Niagara. The insect can wipe out entire vineyards.

“If I don’t have grapes, I can’t make wine,” Redelmeier said.

He noted that Ontario’s wine industry is extremely important and if any part of the industry is hurting, it’s also hurting them.

The Sault Ste. Marie, a non-profit organization that works to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species in Canada, watches the lantern.

“Once you have an infestation, an entire vineyard can unfortunately go down,” said Emily Posteraro, program development coordinator for the center.

Redelmeier worries about how an infestation could affect small winemakers.

“So as a producer today I have 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 on the shelf,” he said.

Few small winemakers can say that, and many wineries don’t have the ability to fall back on past vintages.

The spotted lanternfly has been on Canada’s radar since it was first spotted in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014.

The insects, about three centimeters long, are native to southwestern Asia and love to feast on more than 70 different plant species. Its preferred host choice is the invasive tree of heaven and black walnut trees.

This is a huge concern, especially since both trees are usually found near vineyards.

“Basically, the spotted lanternfly tends to swarm on plants and (it) feeds on the sugars in the plant, which (it) weakens the plants significantly,” Posteraro said.

The only exception to this rule would be the vine. Not only does the pest weaken them, but it can destroy them.

A 2019 study by Pennsylvania State University estimated that if the spotted lanternfly spread throughout Pennsylvania, total losses to the agricultural sector would be $324.9 million per year and cost 2,810 jobs.

“We should be very concerned and think that if this takes hold here, we could see similar economic impacts,” said Diana Mooji, invasive species specialist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“We have seen reports from areas of Pennsylvania where this pest is established, that in some extreme cases where spotted lanternfly infestations were very dense, entire vineyards were lost,” Mooji said.

There’s reason to believe that the spotted lanternfly could cause serious damage in Niagara, which has more than 120 wineries, about a third of which are in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Ontario is the top producer of grapes in Canada and accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the country’s production, according to a fact sheet from the Grape Growers of Ontario.

The province’s wine industry generated more than $5 billion in total economic activity in the province in 2019, according to research by Wine Growers Ontario. That was about $4.3 billion in 2015.

It is not certain that the lantern can survive our winters. However, in recent years Niagara’s winters have been milder, summers have lasted longer, and overall temperatures are warmer due to climate change.

“These are all things that can influence the establishment of the species,” said Liette Vasseur, professor of biological sciences at Brock University.

So far, the insect has been spotted in 14 states and is under quarantine in 45 counties in Pennsylvania.

This means that anything that can carry the pest cannot be moved without taking appropriate steps to prevent the spread.

Businesses, municipalities, and government agencies must have a permit if they leave the state with any of the materials the lanterns might be on, including vehicles, plants, and landscaping equipment.

In a quarantine zone, to ensure vehicles are thoroughly checked, residents must complete a checklist before leaving the state.

Although they don’t fly long distances, insects are known to be stellar hitchhikers. They can travel long distances by car, boat, truck and even plane, said Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of Grape Growers of Ontario.

With travel between the United States and Canada resuming, it’s important to keep an eye out for what might return, she said.

“We tell people, if you’re from the United States, (it’s) probably best to check under your car to see if you’ve been camping,” she said.

It’s also important to check the surface of your vehicle and around your tires for egg masses, Posteraro said.

The lantern has four stages in its life cycle. The egg mass is the first stage, where 30-60 eggs will emerge. At this point, it’s easy to carry them around without knowing it, Vasseur said.

“It’s going to be really important because they can look like a trail of mud,” she said.

Getting a car wash is a good idea when you return to Canada as it can wash away egg masses.

Once hatched, they enter the nymph stage, which has about four stages of development, called instars.

At the beginning of its development, the insect is small with shiny black and white spots. When it enters its advanced stage, also known as the fourth stage, it changes color and is much larger. At this point it will be beige, red and black with black spots. He can’t fly yet, but he can jump.

The adult Lantern is capable of flight, but it is not known to fly gracefully. At rest, its wings are beige with black spots. In flight, it has a brilliant combination of red, black and white with black spots.

The adult insect can cause serious damage to crops as it uses razor-sharp teeth to pierce trees and access sweet sap.

When made with the sap, it produces what is called honeydew, which is undigested sugars.

When honeydew builds up over time, it creates sooty mold at the bottom of the plant. Over time, this mold can kill plants.

A national advisory committee has been set up to find ways to educate and prepare people for the pest’s arrival.

The committee includes organizations such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Invasive Species Center and Grape Growers of Ontario.

Through workshops, word of mouth and outreach, the committee hopes to better prepare the public.

“We know they are coming. It’s just that we have to find a way to deal with them,” Zimmerman said.

In the meantime, it is important that farmers keep a close eye on their crops.

“If they saw large amounts of weeping sap from the trees, maybe that’s something we want to check and review,” Mooij said.

It could be a sign that the lantern is around.

If spotted, Vasseur advises people to call the Canadian Food Inspection Agency immediately and keep the insect in a bottle and let it gradually die.

“If you see it, step on it,” Zimmerman said.

Either way, it is important to call the sighting and take a photo of the insect.

“It’s also hopefully a great wake-up call that we need to be careful not to move pests from one place to another,” Redelmeier said.

Canadians are asked to report any sightings to invasivespeciescentre.ca or to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at inspection.gc.ca/pests.

The Invasive Species Center hosted an educational workshop on the insect this week and will host another on October 5.

The workshop will be held at the Rittenhouse branch of the Lincoln Pelham Public Library in Vineland from 6-8 p.m.

Register at Invasivespeciescentre.ca/upcoming-event-spotted-lanternfly-information-workshop/.

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, The Lake Report

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