Gillibrand calls for $16M to fight invasive bug

Staff reports

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is calling on Congress to deliver $16.066 million in funding to combat the Spotted Lanternfly, an invasive species that threatens specialty crops, including grapes, across the Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley.

In a letter to appropriators, Gillibrand called for full funding of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Specialty Crop Pest program in the final FY21 Agriculture Appropriations bill, and specifically to provide $16.066 million for the spotted lanternfly, consistent with the House funding level.

Native to China, the spotted lanternfly was first identified as an invasive species in South Korea in 2004. One was observed in Penn Yan in 2018.

“The spotted lanternfly has proven to be an invasive and destructive pest that threatens New York State’s specialty crops, especially vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley," Gillibrand said. "If not contained, this pest will have devastating economic consequences on agriculture, tourism, and residential homes, at a time when our economy needs these industries for a strong recovery. Congress must ensure the Specialty Crop Pest program is fully funded to prevent further spread.”

She noted that the spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, is an invasive species thought to have arrived in the United States in 2012, and that according to Cornell University, the first infestation was found in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014. "Although quarantine measures were taken in the infested townships and efforts were taken to eradicate this pest, spotted lanternfly has proved difficult to contain," she wrote in her letter to appropriators. "Currently there are infestations of spotted lantern fly in nine states, including in my home state of New York."

Infestations of the colorful bugs have been found this fall in Ithaca's Fall Creek neighborhood, at two spots in Rockland County and one spot in neighboring Orange County. The state's first confirmed infestation was found in a state park on Staten Island in August.

A single adult insect was reported in 2018 on a private Keuka Lake property in Penn Yan.

Tyler Johnson, a scout from the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, searches for evidence of spotted lanternfly infestations locally in 2019.

Trained inspectors have been in the field trying to find and destroy spotted lanternfly eggs that otherwise will hatch in late spring and loose hundreds or thousands of lanternfly nymphs into state forests and farmlands.

"This is a nasty critter. It reproduces quickly and we’re going to be really hard-pressed to try to kill it off with pesticides. We’re going to have to find other ways.” Tunker Hosmer told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle last month. Hosmer, with his wife, Maren, operates Hosmer Winery on the slopes above Cayuga Lake about 20 miles north of Ithaca. 

Unaided, individual bugs can travel only a few miles in their short lifetimes. But both adult lanternflies and their egg masses are readily transported by motorists and commercial shippers.

Adult lanternflies, which develop in mid-summer, feed on the sap of a variety of plants, including apple and other fruit trees, shade trees, hops and more.

Adult insects, feeding heavily before they reproduce, can swarm vineyards in the late summer and fall as grapes are maturing. They can be killed with short-lived insecticides but a new swarm of bugs can appear the next day, and the day after that.

Sen. Gillibrand

"It is imperative that this pest is contained before it further invades the Eastern Seaboard and eventually makes its spread across the United States. This would have devastating effects on agriculture, tourism, and residential homes. Through their research, Cornell University has highlighted that the spotted lanternfly has a strong preference for specialty crops such as grapes, decimating entire vineyards in Pennsylvania. If this pest is able to migrate out of its current location, it could prove to be devastating for all states with a strong specialty crop sector."

There are over 39,000 acres of grapes in New York, with roughly 6,000 acres in Yates County. A 2012 report prepared for the New York Wine and Grape Foundation put the economic impact of New York-grown grapes at $4.8 billion. In Yates County there are currently 36 wineries. According to a 2010 report from the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, these local wineries produced retail sales totaling $17.9 million, which in turn produced approxiamtely $700,000 in sales taxes or eight percent of the county’s total sales tax revenue for that year. The impact spotted lanternfly could have on the local economy is significant.

Includes reporting from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle