California winegrowers on edge over pest that could 'devastate' lucrative industry

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The California Association of Winegrape Growers is urging other winegrowers to be on high alert for spotted lanternflies that are sharing egg masses, as some have been found that may produce adult bugs in the coming weeks — with peak populations expected in late summer or early fall. 

“It’s terrifying to know that a small pest has the potential to devastate the livelihood of our growers and ravage an industry that is so vital to the California economy,” a California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) representative told Fox News Digital this week.

California winemakers produce 80% of America’s wine. The state is also the fourth-largest wine producer in the world, according to the Wine Institute, a public policy advocacy organization located in California.

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“SLF’s [the spotted lanternfly’s] potential impact on vineyards could ripple through tourism, taxes, and employment across the state,” the representative said.

Dr. Dan Suiter, University of Georgia’s Orkin Professor of Urban Entomology, told FOX Business that spotted lanternflies are not actually flies, but a plant-feeding insect called a true bug.

“They’re a plant-sucking insect, and they feed primarily on the Tree of Heaven, but their host range is over 100 different plants. Unfortunately, grapes [are] one of them,” said Suiter.

The California wine industry generates $73 billion in annual economic activity within the state of California and $170.5 billion for the U.S. economy, according to the Wine Institute.

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Luis Magdaleno, Munselle Vineyards’ pest control adviser and viticulturist in Geyserville, California, said his team has not encountered the pest yet, but if they do, it will be “pretty bad.”

And, “education and early detection are key” for vineyard owners, according to the representative of the Winegrape Growers.

“Learning to identify SLF in its various life stages is crucial for tackling this pest early if it arrives in California. Many counties have proactively removed Tree of Heaven, a preferred host plant for SLF, to reduce the risk of infestation,” the representative added.

Magdaleno said, “Everyone’s having to deal with [another pest] right now, the vine mealybug. It’s very similar, it starts sucking all the sugar, phloem and stuff out of the vine.”

“The regulations in California are definitely a little tighter than other states.”

He added that vineyards are able to keep certain bugs at bay, but there’s a great concern about spotted lanternflies. 

“The lanterns are actual huge bugs, and they can be in the thousands on trees.”

“There’s no pesticide in California that is registered to treat them,” said Magdaleno. 

“If we do have to go ahead and treat them, unfortunately, the regulations in California are definitely a little tighter than other states. It can make it harder for us to deal with them.”

The California wine industry employs 422,000 California workers and attracts 25.2 million tourists to CA’s wine countries each year, according to the Wine Institute.

“It’s already super expensive to treat all these pests” Magdaleno said, adding if a pesticide chemistry was made, it would impact overhead costs for vineyards.

If a spotted lanternfly is seen, the CAWG urges Californians to “Snag It: Capture the insect if possible. Snap a Picture: Take a clear photo of the suspected SLF. Report It: Contact the CDFA to report your findings.”

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxbusiness.com/lifestyle

FOX Business reached out to the California Department of Agriculture for additional comment.

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