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County prepares for federal quarantine against light brown apple moth - Fallbrook area growers to submit to inspection for distribution

San Diego County officials met with Fallbrook area growers on August 10 to discuss a possible federal quarantine of the light brown apple moth as well as eradication methods and strategies that will be put into place.

The light brown apple moth (LBAM) is a harmful, invasive pest native to Australia, but has been distributed throughout New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and was reported in Hawaii and parts of Central and Northern California.

In early March of this year, the first LBAM was found in a lemon grove in Bonsall. Five other adult LBAM have been trapped, with two found on the same property east of San Diego’s Balboa Park, and the remaining three found dispersed throughout San Diego County.

As a way to protect California’s agriculture, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) are working to help farmers be aware of the potential threat, as well as find a way to keep the spread from reaching the rest of the county.

While a federal quarantine has yet to be declared, the state of California has declared a 1.5-mile quarantine around the site where the two LBAM were found. If a federal quarantine were to be put into place, the entire county would be subject to quarantine.

“Due to the emergency nature of the pest, we are authorized to begin quarantine measures,” said San Diego County agricultural commissioner Robert Atkins. “We have to plan for the quarantine. All the groundwork has been done for us because of the Central California infestation, so we have the authority for eradication.”

According to officials, LBAM hosts include apples, blueberries, peaches, pears, strawberries, grapes, and citrus fruit, cabbage, corn, peppers and tomatoes. They are also found on oak, willow, poplar, and walnut trees, roses, chrysanthemums and dahlias.

“We have a saying: if it’s green, it’s a host,” said Atkins. “We believe this pest is responsible for hosting on over 2,000 plants and over 250 agricultural plants.”

According to the CDFA Web site, adult LBAM are light brown, yellowish moths with varying amounts of darker brown. Eggs are pale white and deposited in groups of 20–50. Larvae are green, and pupae are brown. Telltale indications of a LBAM infestation are fruit and leaves that have been wrapped together by the caterpillar’s silk.

LBAM traps successfully used in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii have been implemented throughout the county, with five LBAM traps installed per square mile in the county’s suburban areas, said Atkins, and a combination of a sterile release LBAM and the use of Isolate LBAM Plus (Twist Ties) – which release a pheromone meant to confuse the LBAM – will help to slow down the breeding process of the pests.

“No one has used the sterile release program on LBAM. We are the guinea pigs,” said Atkins. “It is the best hope we have for controlling them, and we are pushing for a fast track to release.”

The sterile release program is similar to the program used to help eradicate the infestation of Mediterranean fruit flies in the county, said Atkins. It is believed that the quarantine for that particular pest will be ended within the next few weeks.

Growers that are exempt from the quarantine will be production nurseries not shipping interstate or internationally; retail nurseries; certified farmers’ markets; and produce dealers who ship but do not grow agricultural products.

Growers who are not exempt from the quarantine must undergo a visual inspection of their crops; placement of one LBAM trap per five acres of crops, bi-weekly inspections of said traps; must enter a compliance agreement with the CDFA; and will have the crops inspected and be given a phytosanitary certificate for international shipping.

“The federal regulation for controlling LBAM in this area is very minimal,” said Gary Carpenter, a program director for the USDA and APHIS. “Fallbrook growers will see officers operating, but will not undergo strict regulations.”

As the quarantine process is put into place, growers who have produce that must be shipped out will not be held responsible for the county’s lack of resources to visit each grove and certify the crops, said Atkins.

For more information on the light brown apple moth eradication efforts or quarantine, go to http://www.aphis.usda.gov, http://www.sdcawm.org, or go http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/PDEP/lbam/lbam_main.html.

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