30 May

$44 million to protect county crops

By Julissa McKinnon,

This week the House of Representatives approved more than $44 million to continue funding three agricultural research programs that benefit Napa County. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, secured the funding in the 2007 agriculture spending bill. The bill has yet to go to the Senate, where it could be amended and approved.

The agricultural spending proposed so far go toward the same three programs that were funded last year:

* $35.56 million for Pierce’s disease research and control

* $7.73 million for Sudden Oak Death research and control

* $1.35 million for olive fruit fly research and control

“This funding will continue to protect our crops against harmful pests and disease,” Thompson said. “Pierce’s disease is a constant threat to our region’s vineyards. Local efforts have prevented an outbreak in our area but we must continue to be vigilant.” Pierce’s disease is a plant virus spread by the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a half-inch flying insect so named for its transparent wings. During the 1990s more than 1,000 acres of grapevines in Temecula were destroyed by the insect, which is dark brown with ivory pots on its head and back. In June 2004, agricultural officials found and eradicated a sharpshooter infestation near the factory outlet stores in Vacaville — 30 miles to the east of Napa County. According to agricultural authorities, that’s the closest the pest has come to invading Napa County. Dave Whitmer, Napa County’s Agricultural Commissioner said some of the proposed federal spending would help county agencies inspect plant shipments and with bug-trapping. Some of the money, he said, would probably go to the state for measures to limit the spread of glassy-winged sharpshooter. “Trying to limit the spread of the glassy-winged sharpshooter from locations where it is now down in the Central Valley … reduces the risk of it getting here naturally on its’ own,” Whitmer said. The ag commissioner went on to say that sudden oak death and the olive fruit fly pose less grave concerns to Napa County, despite the fact that the pest and disease have already invaded the county. However, they do not pose a threat to Napa Valley’s wine grapes, by far the county’s dominant and most lucrative agricultural crop. Sudden oak death is currently afflicting trees in pockets of the Mayacamas Range, the hills framing the western edge of Napa County. “Currently the fungal disease is found in fairly remote locations,” Whitmer said. “It isn’t impacting trees in urban or residential areas at this time, but we will continue to survey for it and try and prevent the spread of the disease that occurs with the movement plant material and firewood.” Meanwhile, the olive fruit fly is severely vexing anyone in Napa County attempting to grow olives, to sell fresh or press into oil. The olive fruit fly ravages an olive crop by laying its eggs within the flesh of an olive. The larvae burrows and feeds on the olive, often triggering other fungi and bacteria to begin breaking down the olive. “If you’re taking olives for pressing, the presence of the olive fruit fly reduces the quality of olive oil,” Whitmer said. He added that a number of grape growers in Napa County have started growing olives on the side in an attempt to add crop diversity to their land. The ag commissioner said many of the ornamental olive trees planted in urban and residential zones have become reservoirs for the olive fruit fly. “We should try to get folks in the community to deal with their olives in some way, shape, or form so they don’t allow the trees to fruit. When the fruit just sits there it allows the (olive fruit fly) populations to expand,” Whitmer said. “When the olive trees are in bloom you can hit the blooms with high-pressure water and that alone would knock the olive production down.”

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