Fourteen Pennsylvania counties are now under quarantine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed infestations in Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.
California grape and orchard growers are on alert after receiving unofficial reports of the presence of the spotted torch fly, an insect native to Asia that can cause millions of dollars in losses.
The insect was spotted in September 2019, Dr. Surendra Dara, a University of California Davis Cooperative Extension advisor, told Univision News. California agricultural inspectors found several of the dead insects on cargo planes in Sacramento, Stockton, and Ontario and also observed some live specimens in Davis County.
“We don’t want to create a panic, but we do want preventive care,” he said. “But this is a matter not to be forgotten.”
California’s agricultural industry is worth $50 billion a year, so Dara believes preventive measures must be taken to avoid insect infestation.
“We definitely don’t want them here,” said Warren Bogle, a winemaker from Clarksburg, California. “It’s like coronavirus.”
The Spotted Lantern Fly was first detected in the United States in 2014, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Since that year it has spread to New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia.
Currently, fourteen Pennsylvania counties are under quarantine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed infestations in Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. USDA has also confirmed individual fly findings in New York and Massachusetts, but not an infestation in those two states.
Dara said the insect can create its habitat on both urban and agricultural plants and trees, particularly the so-called “tree of heaven.
“That tree is its first choice.” It is a widely used ornamental tree in public gardens, but vines are also highly preferred.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has categorized the possible hosts of the spotted fly, vines, fruit trees, and hardwoods.
Spotted torch flies also have a broad diet. It has been observed feeding on the sap of 70 different species of trees and vines, including grapes, nuts and fruit trees, which pose a risk to the orchards and the wine and table grape industry of the Central Valley.
In California, almonds alone represent a $5.47 billion business, while the wine and table grape industry generates about $6.25 billion annually in California, according to the Department of Food and Agriculture.
“With a strong insect, like the virus, everyone is dealing with now, you have to understand the biology,” Dr. Dara said. “The more we know, the better we can handle the situation.
Brian Talley, owner of the Talley Vineyard in Arroyo Grande, California, in San Luis Obispo County, said he is always prepared to act against any type of pest.
“I’ve never had any experience with the spotted fly; what worries me most now is the shortage of protective equipment for my workers’ faces when they use herbicides or pesticides; there are no masks [for the coronavirus] and that’s been disruptive.