- Author: Mark Bolda
Since we have had our first field closure in strawberry as of last night, it is important for us all to review how the USDA regulatory process unfolds for growers here.
Field closure is expensive and to be avoided. For readers who are not growers or familiar with commercial strawberry production, consider that the average weekly take out of a field can be 400 boxes per acre that we will conservatively price at 8 dollars a box back to the grower. So the weekly cost of LBAM closure to a fifty acre field is 160,000 dollars. Personally speaking, this enormous penalty is totally out of proportion with the infraction of having a quarantined pest in one’s field, but it is not my decision to make.
Cooler Inspection: USDA inspectors are to visit area coolers at regular intervals, my understanding is that because of the reduced budget for the program they will be checking in at each local facility once a month. This may change however depending on the vagaries of Federal budgets and politics. Once at the cooler, inspectors take a subsample from a load of fruit from each production field for that day. The inspectors are VERY thorough, the field closure from last night came from a larva tucked under the calyx. Unfortunately, such a larva often cannot be identified right away and so a hold is put on fruit coming out of that field. In plain English, that means the field is closed and you can no longer harvest and send fruit out of that field.
Field Inspection: Once a field has been identified as possibly infested with light brown apple moth, the next step is for inspectors to do an inspection of the field itself. I have seen field inspection, and it does not leave one leaf unturned. For somebody with experience, leaf rolls are easy to see, and inspectors walk with up to six people abreast, one person per row. Since this is their job, day in and day out, they are really good at it and if you have a leafroller, it will be found.
Treatment of Infested Fields: If no leafrollers are discovered during the field inspection, the field is opened back up. If a leafroller is discovered and furthermore found to be positive for LBAM, the grower is mandated to make an application. He or she chooses from a list of allowed materials, and fortunately this year, according to program director Rick McKay, surfactants and adjuvants are allowed and highly recommended. All parts of the application are observed by inspectors from loading, mixing and the actual spray. Nothing says that the grower can't be making applications before and after this regulated application, but they need to see the one they mandate. Then, depending on the pesticide used, inspectors return after a specified number of days to re-inspect the field. If no more leafrollers are found, the field is opened back up. If a leafroller is found, the field remains closed and the application procedure is repeated. Experience from last year says more often than not it takes more than one spray to re-open a field. In some cases, especially in organic fields, which have a much narrower selection of effective materials, it can take more than a month to re-open.
Discussion: It is imperative that growers pay attention to leafrollers in their fields. Yes, they are around, because I have been getting phone calls about this all week long now. Conventional growers have a wide range of materials at their disposal, organic growers less. It is not a bad thing yet to be putting out the pheromone mating disruption twist ties, since we are probably looking at a flight of adult moths in late June, with a subsequent larval infestation in July and August again. In light of the devastating costs of field closure, it might not be too much to have crews go through the fields regularly and be removing rolls.