Virginia’s brewers and winemakers are exceptionally anxious following the recent discovery of an invasive species in Virginia that could potentially threaten hops and grape growing operations throughout the state.
The spotted lanternfly, a sap-eating insect like the large Aphid, first appeared in the state early last month. Native to Asia and notoriously good at stowing away. It is suspected the potential nuisance arrived on a shipment of construction materials from China. In recent years the bug has been spotted in Pennsylvania and Delaware, which hasn’t done much to allay fears that the population is growing in number and reach.
Grape growers are expected to be hit the hardest as a result. The problem arises when the bugs find a sweet and sappy meal, much like ripe grapes. When they set down to dine for a meal, they leave behind a substance similar to honeydew. This substance is the main culprit in the development of sooty mold, a fungus which will break down the fruit and cause it to go foul in the process.
The first reports of the bug surfaced in Pennsylvania in 2015 and Agricultural officials in the region have been keeping a close eye on the visitor ever since. It still remains to be seen just how much the population has spread in that time. The authorities in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and now Virginia are all working to create a containment plan before things can get out of hand. $17.5 million has already been allotted to the efforts in emergency funding for Southeast Pennsylvania.
Not much is known about the spotted lanternfly in the US, it’s full impact on plant species or any natural predators. an entomologist at the University of Maryland, Mike Raupp expects the USDA has likely sent experts to Asia for a more comprehensive investigation on the details of the bug’s background and impact on local ecosystems.
Authorities in all three states are urging anyone who suspects a presence of the insect to report it to authorities immediately. Tree of Heaven trees appear to be particularly attractive to the spotted lanternfly and growers with these trees on their property may want to reconsider maintaining their presence on premises.
The Economic Impact
In Virginia, the wine and wine grape industry is one that brings in considerable revenues. In 2015 the state’s winemakers produced 705,000 cases or just under 8.5 million bottles. In total, the full economic impact of wine and wine grapes on the Virginia economy reached $1.37 billion. With just under 10,000 Virginians employed in local wine-related industries and wine-related tourism contributing a significant amount to those revenues, an outbreak of sooty mold as a result of the spotted lanternfly’s presence would pose a significant threat to the state and local residents.
With nearly 200 craft breweries in the state, hops could soon become a hot commodity. Also susceptible to the sooty mold these bugs produce, hops are a main ingredient contributing to the nearly $10 billion that Virginia’s economy enjoys from brewing activities and beer related tourism. Not to mention the 20,000 people the industry employs statewide.
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