The vineyards are ready as the vine brings the spotted lanternfly to fame | State and Area News

Doug Pfeiffer heard it through the vine that Mottled Lantern territory is encroaching into southwestern Virginia, and he’s getting the word out before the pest spreads into that patch of woods, causing problems for agriculture.

Pfeiffer, a fruit entomologist and professor at Virginia Tech, has been to bars, conferences and wineries across the Roanoke and New River valleys, educating people about the spotted lanternfly.

“It’s an invasive insect that could potentially be extremely disruptive in residential areas,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s a real nuisance. But economically, especially in vineyards, it is a potentially devastating insect.

The invasive insect is an experienced hitchhiker, moving to these parts of Virginia through Pennsylvania, native to America in shipments from Asia, with infestations as close as Rockbridge County, a- he declared. Earlier in August, Bedford County announced the presence of the spotted lanternfly within its borders.

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“His two favorite host plants are the tree of heaven and the vine,” Pfeiffer said. “Since we realized this would happen, we’ve done a lot of outreach work, preparing growers for this.”

It only takes a few mature mottled lanterns, which reach about an inch, to establish new infestations, he said. They eat by sucking sap from plants, with adult insects dependent on these trees of paradise, an invasive species in their own right that is common in the Roanoke and New River valleys, and vines, a crop worth over $1.7 billion in Virginia. , according to recent economic impact reports.

“And they feed in huge aggregations of hundreds or thousands on a plant,” Pfeiffer said. “Between their physical size and their number, they just extract an enormous amount of sap from the plant, and that’s the energy the plant needs.”

When spotted lanterns first invaded Pennsylvania vineyards beginning in 2014, their feeding weakened plants, reducing winter hardiness and eventually killing entire blocks of vines, he said.

Even spraying masses of vine-eating adult mottled lanterns to death isn’t enough to curb a population once established, as young lygus bugs feed on more than 70 different forest plants.

“If a vineyard is near a wood and they are going to spray some [pesticide] and kill thousands of Mottled Lanterns, a few days later there are thousands of Mottled Lanterns back,” Pfeiffer said. “There is a continuous reinvasion of the vineyard after a control action.”

Botetourt County wineries have been discussing how they plan to handle the arrival of the Mottled Lanterns, said Kevin Vernon, vineyard manager for Stoney Brook Vineyards in Troutville.

“It’s only a matter of time,” Vernon said. “How these things spread, they hatch their eggs or just attach themselves to someone’s bumper or under their car. Next thing you know, they’ve traveled 60 miles in one day and are going to infest that area.

Vernon said Stoney Brook Vineyards patrols its 5 acres of vines every day, looking for signs of spotted lanternflies, their eggs or any celestial trees sprouting from the undergrowth, among a host of other pests and problems. to monitor. Dappled lanterns are just another challenge on a long list for viticulture in Virginia, he said.

“The state of Virginia, it’s a very tough place to grow fruit, just because of the very short, hot, humid, humid summers that we have,” Vernon said. “You fight mold, fungus, mold…early season, mid-season, late season disease…early spring climbs winter cutworms…Japanese beatles will pass in summer… “

His list has grown a little longer, but the juice is worth it, Vernon said. This ongoing battle with the elements is part of learning to live in harmony with mother nature, which at all times inspires respect, he said.

“I’ve been in great contact with a lot of vineyard managers in Virginia, and we’re all in this together,” Vernon said. “It’s a huge support system, and it’s unlike any other company I’ve been part of in my life.”

At Virginia Mountain Vineyards in Fincastle, the spotted lanternfly has been a talking point for years, said vineyard manager Riley Sobieski.

“An area like Botetourt County where we are, there are five or six vineyards in the area, and we’re all very far apart,” Sobieski said. “Until these bugs actually find one of these vineyards and find a way to establish themselves, I think we’ve been pretty lucky so far…but I expect to start seeing them in the future.”

He said that the spotted lanternfly in the egg and nymph stage is sensitive to insecticides and there are traps for the adult insects. Some farmers have removed as many paradise trees as possible from their properties, except for a bait tree used to trap spotted lanternflies that survive pesticides to adulthood, Sobieski said.

“It’s going to be a range of things. Treating different stages of infestation will require different protocols,” Sobieski said. “I’m not sure it will ever be something that we will totally eradicate. These things just show up in farming and you kind of have to pivot.

Research is underway to find new ways to control the spotted lanternfly at Virginia Tech’s entomology department, said Pfeiffer, the professor.

“At the moment it relies heavily on chemical control, the use of insecticides. This will continue in the short term,” Pfeiffer said. “We really need to come up with more sustainable and selective control tools. This is what we do now in our program.

He said there had been progress on that front. On the one hand, research has shown that it is about as effective to spray against spotted lanterns only on the edges of a vineyard, as opposed to the entire crop, which greatly reduces the overall need chemical treatments.

“I also have a graduate student working on an entomopathogenic fungus called beauveria,” Pfeiffer said. “This would hopefully control the spotted lanternfly as nymphs, applying it to egg nests and spores that cause them to die while they hatch.”

Pairing further research on the pest with more awareness efforts, Pfeiffer said people can do their own part to thwart the spread of the spotted lanternfly.

“Spotted lanterns can spread naturally on their own, but they can travel hundreds of miles at a time with the help of people,” Pfeiffer said. “I urge people to know what this is like. And if you live in or near a quarantined county, make it a habit to check your vehicle before leaving the county. We really want to avoid or minimize the hitchhiking to new places.

For more information on the Mottled Lantern, go online to www.vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-spotted-lanternfly.shtml. For expert help or to report a sighting, find a local Virginia Cooperative Extension office online at https://ext.vt.edu/offices.html.

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