Stopping the Spotted Lanternfly

USDA allocates $17.5 million to stop the spread of insect in grapes and other crops

by Linda Jones McKee
wine grape spotted lanternfly vineyard
The Spotted Lanternfly has the potential to impact the grape, hops and logging industries, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Washington, D.C.—Sonny Perdue, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, announced Feb. 7 that $17.5 million in emergency funding is being made available to combat the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) in Pennsylvania. The funding will be used to conduct surveys and implement control measures in neighboring states that are concerned about potential spread of the pest, which was first reported in the southeastern part of the state in 2014.

This funding, which will come from existing Commodity Credit Corp. balances, will permit the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to manage the outer perimeter of the insect’s range, while the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture concentrates on a 3-mile perimeter around the core infestation area. According to the USDA, the goal of the expanded surveillance and control program is “to stop the leading edge of the infestation and start pushing it inward, while at the same time reducing the density of spotted lanternfly populations in the core-infested area.

In addition to its work in Pennsylvania, APHIS plans to conduct surveys and implement control measures as necessary in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York. The USDA estimates that the affected area in FY 2016 was 174 square miles, and that by the end of FY 2017 that area had expanded to approximately 3,000 square miles.

“We’ve seen a dramatic expansion in the range of this pest over the last year, and we need to take decisive action to prevent the spotted lanternfly from spreading throughout Pennsylvania and into neighboring states,” Perdue said. “We have the tools to fight this invasive insect and, together with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), we have developed an area-wide approach that will begin before the pest starts to re-emerge in the spring.”

Gov. Wolf calls for funding


    • Scraping egg masses off trees or vehicles can reduce pest numbers, but often the masses are hidden and may go unnoticed;

    • Because in immature SLF go up and down tree trunks each day, applying a sticky band around the trunk can be an effective trap;

    • When clearing a woodlot of Tree of Heaven, several male Tree of Heaven can be left as trap trees, and then insecticide applied around mating time;

    • Eliminating Tree of Heaven will disrupt the life cycle of the SLF.
The USDA announcement came a day after Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s governor, proposed nearly $1.6 million for surveillance and response to the spotted lanternfly (SLF) as part of his budget plan for fiscal year 2018-19. The funding would allow the PDA to increase its efforts in detection and eradication of the insects, as well as coordinate multi-agency response, outreach and training. The coordinated project with the USDA will require dedicated resources for the PDA to fulfill its responsibilities in combatting this invasive pest.

The spotted lanternfly was first identified in Berks County, Pa., in 2014. An inch-long insect with black, red and white markings, the SLF was first found on wild grapevines, maple and weeping willow trees, as well as an invasive sumac-like tree commonly known as Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Because these insects use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap of trees and vines, there was immediate concern about the pests’ impact on vineyards, apple and other tree fruit orchards, and the forest and wood product industries in Pennsylvania.

The initial response by the PDA in early November 2014 was to establish a quarantine zone in five townships and two Pennsylvania municipalities to attempt to prevent movement of the pest to new areas. (See “Potential Grapevine Pest Found in Pennsylvania.”) The SLF is a plant hopper that is native to China, India, Japan and Vietnam, and was introduced into Korea in 2006. Because it does not fly long distances but instead hops or jumps, officials hoped that the insects would spread slowly.

In the next two years, the PDA received funds from the USDA Farm Bill totaling almost $1.5 million to implement control and perform survey work on the SLF. Some of the grant money went to three universities (Kutztown University, Penn State University and North Carolina State University) to conduct research on the range of the SLF, its impact on grapes and an analysis of its DNA. A volunteer tree-banding program was established for owners of infested properties, as it had been determined that sticky tree bands were an effective and environmentally friendly way to catch SLF nymphs in the spring.

Despite these efforts to control the SLF, the insects began to spread. In early July 2016, the PDA extended the SLF quarantine area to include municipalities in five additional counties in Pennsylvania. (See “Grapevine Pest Expands in Pennsylvania.”) The quarantine was expanded again in November 2017 to apply to entire counties, not just municipalities, and a total of 13 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania are now included (the area covers most of Pennsylvania south of the Pocono Mountains and east of the Susquehanna River. (See "Spotted Lanternfly Threat Expands in Pennsylvania.”)

As of 2017, the wine and grape industry generated nearly $4.8 billion in total economic activity in Pennsylvania, according to WineAmerica.

Richard Blair, owner of Setter Ridge Vineyards in Kutztown, Pa., had never seen a SLF in 2014, even though his 7-acre vineyard was in Rockland Township, one of the original municipalities included in the quarantine area. The spotted lanternfly is now causing significant damage in his vineyard; he removed between 500,000 to 750,000 SLF from his vineyards in 2017.

In spite of increased funding last year for programs to control the SLF from the USDA (the PDA received $2.9 million), the insects continued to spread and are now present in Delaware, Maryland and New York. There is increasing concern about the potential infestation of New Jersey and beyond.

SLF found in Virginia
In early January, staff from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found SLF egg masses at a stone and block company site in Winchester, Va. Dr. Tony Wolf, professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech, reported in the January 2018 issue of Viticulture Notes that he had visited the location and saw both a dead adult spotted lanternfly and the egg masses on Tree of Heaven trunks.

Wolf noted that while SLF are planthopper insects, the pregnant females often lay eggs on wood or rusted metal, and they often “hitch hike.” According to Wolf, “This is of particular concern because of the number of Tree of Heaven lining railroad tracks and the propensity of females to lay eggs on wood and rusted metal. Egg masses have been found inside apple bins, which may limit the transport of apples out of quarantined areas. They also demonstrate swarming behavior and can hide in clothing and vehicles.”

As a consequence of finding SLF egg masses locally, Wolf asked Dr. Doug Pfeiffer, fruit entomologist at Virginia Tech, to give an update on the SLF at the Virginia Vineyards Association winter technical meeting Feb. 24, 2018 in Charlottesville, Va.

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