GANGES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The long Labor Day weekend is here, marking the finale of camping and boating season for many in Michigan.
With the last gasp of summer comes a renewed warning from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources: Check your boats, vehicles and firewood for the state’s newest threat, the spotted lanternfly.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced last month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had confirmed the state’s first live case of spotted lanternfly. A “small population” of the invasive insect was discovered on Oakland County-owned land in Pontiac, about 30 miles northwest of Detroit. MDARD suspects the pest arrived in Michigan on nursery stock brought in from an infested state and had possibly been there for several months.
Last week, MDARD said its Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division surveyed the area and determined the infestation was mostly contained to a small patch of woods that also contained an invasive host plant known as the Tree of Heaven. The county already sprayed the area with pesticide to kill off the spotted lanternfly will remove the Tree of Heaven patch.
“Given the strong preference of spotted lanternfly to feed on the tree of heaven and the solitary nature of the stand, MDARD is hopeful the population can be contained,” said Plant Pest Management Division Director Michael Philip.
The Oakland County case wasn’t a surprise to MDARD, which had been monitoring for spotted lanternfly for for years as the insect spread closer to our state. The first spotted lanternfly was discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014; the pest has since popped up 11 other states, most recently Michigan.
“Although not unexpected, this is certainly tough news to share due to its potential… to negatively impact Michigan’s grape industry,” MDARD Director Gary McDowell stated in an Aug. 10 news release.
That’s because while the Tree of Heaven is a favorite for spotted lanternfly, the insect will also feed over 70 species of plants, including grape and hop vines and apple and cherry trees. The sticky liquid the spotted lanternfly produces while feeding can collect on the ground near the plants and provide the perfect environment for sooty mold, which can discolor and kill plants.
THREAT TO MICHIGAN VINEYARDS
Staff at Fenn Valley Vineyards are closely monitoring the 240-acre property near Fennville. Company Vice President Brian Lesperance says it’s not a matter of if but rather when will the spotted lanternfly show up.
“We’re going to keep scouting and we’re going to keep our eyes open, but we’re not going to panic,” he said. “We’re going to have to deal with it, there’s no doubt about that.”
Lesperance said Fenn Valley Vineyards has been discussing the pest with other industry peers and experts from the state and Michigan State University, which has a crop pest research center just down the road.
“We know what to look for, we know what their habitat is,” he said.
About 100 acres of Fenn Valley is dedicated to wine grapes this year. The vineyard grows about 20 varietals including pinot noir, which is less hardy and therefore more susceptible to spotted lanternfly attacks. But serendipitously, Fenn Valley’s pinot noir vines were planted far away from any trees that might host the spotted lanternfly and the insect can’t fly far.
Lesperance said the spotted lanternfly is a concern but he doesn’t view the invasive insect as a “doomsday scenario” for the vineyard. It’s vulnerability to pesticides and single breeding cycle a year make it a less formidable foe out in the field.
“It’s not something we’re losing sleep over. We’re just trying to be diligent and cognizant,” Lesperance said. “Basically good scouting is going to be the No. 1 way to prevent it.”
Fenn Valley Vineyards is excited to welcome a different set of visitors this weekend. Lesperance said the winery will easily see 1,000 or more people over Labor Day weekend. The final summer holiday marks a shift in business for Fenn Valley, which will see business ease on weekdays as the school year begins and weekend business pick up, especially as vineyard tours kick off.
With no spotted lanternflys in sight, Lesperance says this year’s yield is showing promise.
“It’s been a great growing season so far, we have a long ways to go, we won’t know everything until the grapes are in the building, but we’re set up for a good season,” he said.
SPOTTING THE SPOTTED LANTERNFLY
Spotted lanternfly is a hitchhiking pest that can move easily on firewood, tires, campers and vehicles. That’s why it’s important to keep your vehicle windows rolled up and inspect all surfaces for spotted lanternfly eggs or insects before you leave a site.
If you find spotted lanternfly, snap a photo and submit a report to Eyes in the Field and destroy the pest. The DNR says prevention and early detection are key to protecting Michigan’s crops. For additional information on identifying or reporting spotted lanternfly, visit Michigan.gov/SpottedLanternfly or the USDA’s Spotted Lanternfly website.