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Davis, California

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Controversial agricultural pest detected in Davis

An agricultural pest that caused an environmental uproar on the California coast in 2008 may have made its way to Davis.

Yolo County officials announced last week that they found a single light brown apple moth in a monitoring trap in South Davis.

The moth is an agricultural pest that feeds on over 2,000 plant species and 250 crops. Native to Australia, it can destroy, stunt or deform young seedlings and new growth in forest canopy, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

County staffers are setting up 300 new traps within a nine-mile radius of the original find to determine whether this is a fluke or a real infestation.

“Within a few weeks we would expect to pick up more moths if it is an infestation,” said Yolo County Agriculture Commissioner Rick Landon.

If it turns out this was not just a stray moth that hitchhiked into the Central Valley from the coast, farmers in the region who export produce may have to worry about a quarantine, Landon said.

The light brown apple moth is not a threat to tomatoes, the county’s biggest cash crop. Grapes, almonds, corn and other exports are at risk, however.

The agricultural pest caused uproar in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay region when state officials announced they were going to try to eradicate the moth by spraying pheromones from the air. Those plans were scrapped after hundreds of citizens complained that the state was essentially doing a chemical experiment on humans.

Several UC Davis entomology professors were instrumental in convincing state and local leaders that pheromone spraying was not a good solution, but they said it was not a health issue.

“The pheromone poses no rational risk to human beings,” said UC Davis professor Bruce Hammock, an expert in insect biochemistry.

The real issue with the pheromone approach, according to the UCD entomologists, was the fact that the light brown apple moth can only be controlled, not eliminated.

“It is so widespread in the state that it’s impossible to eradicate,” said UCD entomology professor James Carey. “It’s not a small chance, it’s a zero chance.”

Carey also said the pest was not even especially dangerous.

“It is not that big a concern as a pest,” he said. “It’s no different than any other leafroller pest that we already have in the state.”

Carey said the real concern for farmers is the Department of Food and Agriculture coming in and trying to eradicate the moth through a quarantine, which could have a serious financial impact on those who depend on the ability to export produce.

Since aerial spraying is not currently an option on the table, a quarantine would be the most likely course of action if there was an infestation, Landon said.

A quarantine would affect commodities grown within 1.5 miles of a find. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has indicated that it would be willing to help defray the costs associated with a quarantine, Landon said. Other potential techniques for dealing with the pest include using sterile insects or pheromone-infused twist ties to disrupt the mating process.

 

JEREMY OGUL can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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