Monday, April 5, 2010

Organic growers face a crisis

How committed are you to the green lifestyle? Would you sacrifice your business to stay organic?

That's the question many Northern California grapegrowers are asking themselves right now, as the European grapevine moth appears to be spreading across Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Last year, the moth struck right at the heart of California wine, destroying the crop at one Oakville vineyard. That sent chills through the spines of every winery that has debts to pay, because a year without a vintage is a dead loss.

Fortunately, unlike phylloxera, this moth sucks the juice of grapes but doesn't destroy the vines themselves. It's originally from southern Italy, where growers have been dealing with it for years.

But while organic growers hope to control it with predatory wasps, currently the best means of dealing with it might be with pesticides.

Another technique is to release pheromones from female moths into the air to disrupt the mating cycle. This is what the state tried to do in 2007 to control the light brown apple moth after it was discovered in Berkeley, but a public outcry induced state officials to stop spraying and that moth is now thriving throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

I talk to grapegrowers all over the world who say they grow organically but won't get certified because they want the option to use chemicals if they really need to. Usually their worry is mold in particularly rainy years. But the European grapevine moth is more fearsome because if you don't eradicate it this year, it will be back next year in larger numbers.

Recently I was discussing this casual semi-organic status with another wine writer who said that such a stance defeats the whole purpose of organic growing -- to learn to overcome obstacles without resorting to chemicals. Personally I'm in favor of so-called "sustainable agriculture," including the use of chemicals when absolutely necessary. To me, the appearance of an invasive pest like this is as good a reason as any to spray. My colleague counters that you have to learn to farm despite the pests because they will keep coming, and once you resort to chemicals you've entered the slippery slope to depending on Roundup.

It's an interesting topic, but for me it's purely academic. For grapegrowers in Napa and Sonoma Counties, it's their livelihood. Don't be surprised if you see fewer labels from 2010 reading "made from organically grown grapes."


Anonymous said...


The Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) is not "Now thriving throughout the Bay Area and beyond."

LBAM was likely in nearly the identical status in 2007 as it is right now. The number of traps has been dramatically increased since 2007 and the methods and locations of traps have been improved to find LBAM. Also, these types of tortricidae moths have populations that are cyclical without any precise patterns to isolate population changes from only one year to the next as a predictor of broader patterns.

The measurement parameters of LBAM population and location have NOT been held constant in order to make a comparison from 2006, when it was noticed on two occasions by an Entomologist in his back yard, in 2007 when California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) first announced it, and 2009 when it was confirmed that LBAM had done NO CROP DAMAGE in California and again in 2010 when it was reconfirmed by all Agriculture Commissioners in every county of the state that NO CROP DAMAGE had occurred from LBAM (despite inaccurate media reports throughout these years unfortunately delivered to the media by the CDFA).

The Euro Grapevine Moth (EGM) may indeed be a significant problem/challenge for California Grape Growers. It would be nice to have CDFA's science capability. The difficulty is that CDFA Top Management used LBAM as a cash cow to attempt to bring $100's of Millions to their budget and then distribute it to their crony insider privileged buddies at large corporate chemical companies for pesticide contracts that were totally unnecessary.

It’s the old "Cry Wolf" syndrome. So now, when we truly need some action on EGM, there may be carry-over resistance from those who were violated by the "Cry of Wolf" on the LBAM program and by many others that have lost their trust in the CDFA.

A.G. Kawamura, the secretary of the CDFA, should resign. He was the first promoter and spokesman for this fraudulent LBAM program. Even though Kawamura has essentially been removed from sight on the LBAM program, three more top managers at CDFA have all been discredited in their attempt to promote and perpetuate the refined misrepresentations and outright lies that were initiated back in 2007, prior to qualified scientists speaking out against this unnecessary and costly LBAM program.

Anonymous said...

There are pesticides that are approved for organic production that will control EGVM and LBAM. No one will lose their organic certification.

W. Blake Gray said...

Anonymous 2: Could you list those approved pesticides here? That would be a service for growers. Thanks.

Anonymous 1: Interesting comments. I'd like to see the CDFA respond.

Roger said...

Has your colleague ever commerically grown grapes, or any other crop for that matter, to be experienced enough to explain how this allows an ag business continued solvency. Your position shows a level of common sense.

Fabius said...

"Sustainable Agriculture" seems like a nice sounding phrase to justify the use of chemicals whenever you feel it necessary (a bit like 'lutte raisonnné'). Why not just be honest and use chemicals if you want (whether it's because you're an incompetent farmer or for whatever reason you want) and be done with it, instead of boring everyone with justifications. In the end, you either pollute the environment and impact peoples health, or you don't.

Anonymous said...

Your comment about the use of pheromones is incorrect. Unlike the completely untested sprayable pheromone applied against LBAM by air to populated areas of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, the pheromone product which will be used by wine grape growers is applied by hand as a twist tie dispenser, is fully registered for organic use by USEPA and CalDPR, has been extensively researched and has been used safely and successfully for many years in Europe. The company whose untested, unregistered product was sprayed for LBAM is a different company than the one with the registered product for EGVM.

Unknown said...

i think i am most interested in the analogy to sutainable farmers.
they have little to no committment to eliminating chemicals/pesticides in this case.
yes the organic farmer could be in tough spot but most likely they will find a way get thru what could be a crisis where the sustainable farmer would cut and run.
so much for the susatinable farmers committment to future generations??

Michael W. Pleitgen said...

EGVM pheromone "has been used safely and successfully for many years in Europe"

That's right! Introduced it in the early ninties on more than 800 ha in the south of the Baden region.

Anonymous said...

CORRECTION: This article is a disservice to anyone who reads it. Did you even research the topic? Organic growers can use Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) to control this pest organically.

Frank Leeds. Certified organic grower for over 20 years. Vice Chair of Napa Country Pest District Board.