The Ohio Department of Agriculture confirmed Sept. 2 that a population of the invasive spotted lanternfly was found in Cleveland near the end of August. This insect feeds on grapevines and fruit trees, in addition to other plants, making it a major concern for the grape and wine industries.
“I don’t know how this is going to work out,” said Tony Debevc, of Debonné Vineyards, in Madison, Ohio. “We have not seen it here yet, but it’s starting to almost surround us.”
The insect was first discovered in the U.S. in eastern Pennsylvania in 2014. Since then, it has spread to multiple counties in eastern and western Pennsylvania, as well as other states including New Jersey, Virginia, Delaware, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio.
It often spreads by hitchhiking on vehicles or trains — the ones found in Cleveland were at two separate locations connected by a railroad line, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said in the Sept. 2 press release.
Gene Sigel, owner of South River Vineyard and vineyard manager for Debonné Vineyards, first started hearing about the invasive pest around 2018. Since then, he’s been following the insect’s spread and learning about it through grape and wine industry meetings, as well as his own reading.
When it first showed up in Pennsylvania, “they were unprepared and had no idea what was happening,” Sigel said.
Now, the spotted lanternfly has been around for a few years. But there’s still not a great solution to deal with it at vineyards, he said.
“There’s really nothing we can do, particularly … it’s sort of like watching a track wreck at slow speeds,” Sigel said. “Really, there is no remedy except ongoing insecticidal treatment.”
The lanternfly is most active from August, through October, which is also when most vineyards have ripe fruit, Sigel noted. During that time of year, he has also been dealing with fruit flies that have become more aggressive in the area.
He has already started adding more insecticides to address that, too. Usually, insecticide applications are front loaded near the beginning of the season and slow down as harvest approaches. Because of the fruit flies, and the threat of spotted lanternflies, that may have to change.
“Historically, we haven’t had to worry about that at this time,” Sigel said. “The exciting thing is that the state is taking it seriously.”
In Pennsylvania and New York, as well as in Ohio, state agencies and universities have been reaching out to landowners and other outdoorsy people about watching for spotted lanternfly. The Ohio Wine Producers Association sent out a release Sept. 3 encouraging people to look for and report spotted lanternflies on their property.
The department of agriculture said in its press release that the public is the first line of defense against the insect.
Debevc said he has been in contact with Ohio State University and is hoping to see more solutions for controlling spotted lanternflies.
“This is when the university … and the department of agriculture need to step up to the plate to help the industry,” Debevc said. “It’s become a major economic force in northeast Ohio.”
There are about 30 wineries in the Grand River Valley, where Debonné Vineyards and South River Vineyard are located, and they drive a lot of tourism in the area.
Universities and departments of agriculture in New York, Pennsylvania and other states are also researching the invasive pest. Sigel doesn’t expect spotted lanternflies to go away any time soon, but is hoping that with an aggressive response, researchers will be able to find more strategies for managing it.
“Unfortunately, with these invasive insects, until they really establish themselves, it’s hard to know how serious [it is], or if other biological checks and controls will develop,” Sigel said. “We need greater research from the wine community to help understand how to manage it.”
Spotted lanternflies go through four nymph stages after hatching in spring, the department of agriculture said. By midsummer, they are identifiable by their red bodies, about half an inch long, with black stripes and white dots. But now through November is when the spotted lanternfly is easiest to recognize, since it is in its adult stage.
Adult spotted lanternflies are larger — about an inch in size — and have black bodies and brightly colored wings. To report a spotted lanternfly in Ohio, visit the department of agriculture’s spotted lanternfly information page and fill out a suspected infestation report, or call the plant pest control division at 614-728-6400.
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