California’s climate and soil creates a very special place for agriculture. With over 400 commodities, California is responsible for producing over 33% of the vegetables and 75% of the fruits and nuts in the country although we only occupy 4% of the land that makes up the United States.
According to the California Department of Food & Agriculture’s (CDFA) most current annual crop report (2021), California’s farms and ranches received $51.5 billion in cash receipts for their outputs of which grapes (wine, table, raisins) are ranked second bringing in $5.23 billion. Specifically in Sonoma County, winegrapes were the number 1 crop, bringing in $541 million which accounted for over 66% of the total crop value in Sonoma County for 2021. Winegrapes are very important to Sonoma county’s local economy and efforts to protect the future of this commodity along with the numerous jobs that it creates is of the utmost importance.
Historically, the formation of pest control districts has played the role of organizing industrywide and areawide efforts of a specific commodity to address controlling and responding more effectively to insect pests and diseases that affect a specific crop. A grassroots effort to form a Pest Control District in Sonoma County started in late 2020 after numerous wine grape growers, viticulturists, and industry professionals struggled with how to control the invasive vine mealybug below economically damaging levels. Although the formation of a pest control district is the first effort of its kind in Sonoma County, pest and disease control districts have a long history in California agriculture dating back to 1922.
It is hard to imagine that any pest or disease can bring down the Sonoma County winegrape industry that has grown grapes since 1812, but this view is shortsighted. Florida’s citrus industry is an unfortunate example of what can happen when an industry does not organize, adopt, and fund a proactive approach to prevent and address insect pests and diseases. Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) is an invasive species that can spread a bacterium in citrus trees that causes a disease called Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening. This disease can affect all varieties of citrus and depletes the tree of needed nutrients making them unproductive within a few years.
A citrus pest control district did not exist when the Asian citrus psyllid was first detected in Florida in 1998. There was no coordinated effort made by the industry because the bacterium that causes the disease had not been found in Florida. It was not until 2005 that HLB was first detected in Florida citrus. Due to HLB, in the span of 15 years, from 2002 to 2017, citrus fruit production fell 74%, the number of citrus growers went from 7,389 to 2,775 (62% loss), juice plants dropped from 41 to 14 (65% loss) and packing houses dropped from 79 to 26 (67% loss). Huanglongbing has spread extensively in Florida infecting over 90% of their citrus trees. A once $10 billion industry has lost 80% of its annual value and with that, the livelihoods of thousands. Currently, there are still noticeable effects on fruit quality even though citrus growers in Florida now spend three times the money to produce half the fruit.
The California Winegrape Pest and Disease District Law of 1993 (California Food and Agricultural Code, Division 4, Chapter 12, Sections 6200-6290) currently exists which allows Sonoma County to establish a pest control district with an assessment maximum of $5/acre. This per acre assessment cannot increase above $5 per acre without further legislation passing and the Sonoma County pest control district coalition is not pursuing legislation for an increase. With almost 60,000 acres, at the assessment maximum, nearly $300,000 annually would be allocated to address areawide pest control issues in Sonoma County.
Of the 18 pest control districts in California, over half are for the citrus industry to prevent the establishment of the Asian citrus psyllid and subsequent spread of HLB in commercial plantings of citrus in California. Huanglongbing has been detected in urban areas of California, but no detections have been found in commercial citrus, no loss of production and no loss of growers due to HLB have been documented from 2010-2021. This is largely attributed to the efforts of pest control districts in the different citrus regions of California and approaching HLB and ACP as a community problem and disease instead of individual efforts.
It is true, pest control districts cost the growers money but 1) The elected board would be comprised of Sonoma County grape landowners or their appointed agents that work in Sonoma County, 2) The elected board decides what the pressing needs of the grape industry in Sonoma County are and which projects to support with this funding and, 3) the board has the means and the ability to quickly respond in an areawide effort to new invasive species that threaten grape production in Sonoma County.
In 2000, Napa County experienced severe economic losses from Pierce’s disease and there was an industry concern of the possible introduction of an insect vector, the glassy-winged sharpshooter. State funding to combat this issue was not enough to meet the needs of Napa growers and to successfully protect the Napa wine industry so in 2002, Napa decided to establish a pest control district aimed at providing funding for the inspection, detection, prevention, and education with regards to Pierce’s disease and glassy-winged sharpshooter. In 2006, the Napa County growers voted to expand the scope of the district to include programs for detection and control of other grapevine pests and diseases. The Napa County pest control district has operated successful programs that include the inspections of nursery stock shipments entering Napa for glassy-winged sharpshooter, European grapevine moth trapping, the detection, areawide trapping and mating disruption, education, and outreach with regards to vine mealybug, grapevine red blotch vectors, alternative forms of ant control, etc. for over 20 years now making their investment worthwhile for their growers and the Napa wine industry as a whole.
Many grape growers in Sonoma County currently struggle with keeping vine mealybug under economically damaging levels. Even though European grapevine moth has been deemed eradicated, the possibility of a reintroduction into Sonoma County still lingers. In addition, a known threat to grapevines, the invasive spotted lanternfly, has established in 14 eastern US states, and is knocking on California’s border with a recent discovery of spotted lanternfly eggs at the CDFA Agricultural checkpoint in Truckee, California on a shipment of firewood trying to cross the border into California. In addition, multiple dead adults have been found in cargo planes landing in California. This insect can aggregate in such high numbers on grapevines producing copious amounts of honeydew and causing vine death.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We need not wait until Sonoma County is faced with huge losses to act. The Sonoma County Pest Control District Coalition (SCPCDC) is currently in the petitioning process seeking signatures by winegrape landowners in Sonoma County to support the formation of the Sonoma County Pest Control District. It is our responsibility as members of the wine industry: vineyard managers, viticulturists, PCA’s, landowners, growers, winemakers, researchers, winegrape buyers, and any contributing member to the winegrape industry to rally for protecting the winegrape industry in Sonoma County of which our livelihoods depend, and that of the generations that come after us.
To learn more about the SCPCDC efforts, sign the petition, or to contact the coalition, please visit sonomacountypcd.org