In agriculture, we constantly search for environmentally responsible pest management tools to reduce our reliance on synthetic plant protectants. Implementing natural biocontrol for insect pests is best practiced before resistance to insecticides develops. However, due to lack of experience and increased costs for materials and labor, producers are reluctant to experiment with biocontrol. Leafroll virus is infecting California grapevines at an alarming rate due to an aggressive insect vector, the vine mealybug. Leafroll virus infections reduce crop yield and quality, decrease a vineyard’s lifespan, and make the land less suitable for future grapevine plantings. In Lodi where we have 750 farmers and 100,000 acres of vineyards, it is imperative to demonstrate mealybug biocontrol. We propose “A Collaborative Beneficial Insect and Pheromone Mating Disruption Demonstration Project” where a team of farmers practices cooperative, region-wide mealybug biocontrol. Farmers will use plant protectants which are safe for beneficials, beneficial insect releases, and will apply a blanket of protective pheromone mating disruption across five vineyards. This team of early-adopter farmers will set an example for Lodi by demonstrating the environmental, social, and economic benefits of cooperatively using biocontrol to manage a threatening disease. Our team will host a “Family Field Day” where Lodi’s 750 farmers and their children will be invited to learn about collaborative pheromone mating disruption and participate in a drone beneficial insect release. The challenge of mealybugs and virus, along with farmer experiences using biocontrol during this project, will be explained in an outreach video. The video along with a blog post/newsletter article will be distributed via the Lodi Winegrape Commission’s community of 1,000+ winegrowing professionals. Hopefully after learning about beneficial insects and pheromone mating disruption from this project, other farmers in Lodi will adopt biocontrol tools as part of long-term mealybug and virus management.
- To demonstrate collaborative mealybug biocontrol efforts.
- To blanket five vineyards in mating disruption pheromone, reducing mealybug populations as measured by regular trapping and monitoring.
- To support and augment natural populations of beneficial insects which act as predators and parasites to the vine mealybug.
- To produce a fun and educational “Family Field Day” where farmers and their families learn about the importance of mealybug biocontrol.
- To produce and distribute a professional educational outreach video highlighting the challenges growers face while trying to manage vine mealybugs and leafroll virus, along with their collaborative biocontrol management strategy.
- To produce and distribute a blog post/newsletter article to 1000+ winegrowing community members about the project and what was learned.
To demonstrate collaborative mealybug biocontrol efforts.
Trying new management strategies is best done in a collaborative manner, where producers can work together to figure out best application practices, generate discounts from purchasing in bulk, and ask each other for help as needed. The five growers will be in regular communication with each other, the PI, and Dr. Kent Daane (our mealybug expert) during the project. The five producers have agreed to share their experiences with beneficial insect augmentation and pheromone mating disruption during our planned outreach, and they will record all related expenses as well as the pros and cons of using these new management strategies.
To blanket five vineyards in mating disruption pheromone, reducing mealybug populations.
Five private vineyards have been chosen to receive applications of pheromone mating disruption products. These products come in the form of hanging tag dispensers, twist tie dispensers, and a flowable product which can be applied with a sprayer. Each producer can choose the application method which makes the most sense for their individual operation. Mealybug populations in these vineyards, along with a private control vineyard which receives no biocontrol applications, will be monitored approximately every week during the growing season (April to November) using trapping for male mealybugs. Two traps per vineyard will be set up and counted under the microscope on a weekly basis. Mealybug trap counts will be compared across the vineyards. The PI will collect and analyze all trap data from the five demonstration vineyards and the control vineyard.
To support and augment natural populations of beneficial insects which act as predators and parasites to the vine mealybug.
At a preliminary meeting in March 2019, the farmers will be asked to review their pesticide use plans for the upcoming growing season to ensure that they will not be spraying any pesticides which are harmful to mealybug parasites and predators. Producers will also discuss the use of cover crops to provide habitat for beneficial insects. Based upon timing recommendations from Dr. Kent Daane, we will coordinate bulk orders of beneficial insects (Anagyrus wasps and Cryptolaemus beetles) from Associates Insectary and release them in the five vineyards. Beetles will be released with the assistance of a drone when possible. The farmers and/or their pest control advisors will scout the vineyards for beneficial insects during the growing season during their normal pest monitoring, noting their presence or absence. The PI will collect and analyze beneficial insect observations, comparing the release dates to the weekly vine mealybug trap counts to determine whether there is an impact on vine mealybug population levels.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Grant participants act as liaisons for mealybug biocontrol wisdom in our community – sharing their experiences with beneficial insects and pheromone mating disruption with other farmers in our region of 750 farmers and over 100,000 acres of vineyards.
We created an educational factsheet for the Michael David Winery beetle release/wine club tour event.
On-farm demonstrations – Workshop / field days
On July 25, 2019, we hosted a Biocontrol Family Field Day – our main outreach event for this grant project. About 75 people attended, including farming families, winegrape buyers, winemakers, pest control advisors, the acting head of the California Department of Pesticide Regulations, the County Ag Commissioner, our local science museum, press, and others. The event was held in an operational vineyard owned by Michael David Winery, one of our grant partners. Heather Pyle opened the event with a description of the grant project, highlighting the importance of farmers working together to solve a difficult challenge like mealybugs and viruses. Then, Dr. Stephanie Bolton (dressed as a wasp superhero) performed a theatrical storytelling version of what biocontrol is and how it works (the science) for the Anagyrus wasp, the Cryptolaemus beetle, and the vine mealybug. Attendees were each given a vial of live Cryptolaemus beetles to either release by hand into the vineyard, to take home to their vineyard, or to load into the beneficial-insect releasing drone operated by a company called parabug (their choice). Most people loaded the beetles into the drone, which then performed a demo for us all, releasing beetles into the vineyard. Other entertainment included mealybug “juice”, biocontrol-themed face painting, insect costumes, sustainable vineyard map coloring, and owl pellet dissections with the local science museum. It was an unforgettable event combining science, sustainability, education, and fun for all ages!
Some photos from the Biocontrol Family Field Day:
Published press articles/newsletters
- Lodi News Sentinel – https://www.lodinews.com/image_251d4bc2-b2ee-11e9-8be1-77f195cb006e.html
- A local news station came to the Biocontrol Family Field Day and we were on the news that evening
- We published an article on our weekly viticulture blog at lodigrowers.com advertising the Biocontrol Family Field Day: https://www.lodigrowers.com/biocontrol-family-field-day-at-night/
Both Michael David Winery and Lucas Winery were able to time include their wine club members in a beetle release. They took wine club members out into the vines to teach them about the importance of biocontrol, letting them release beetles and explaining how the pheromone mating disruption tags work to reduce vine mealybug populations (and thus virus spread) without insecticides! According to David Lucas, the customers couldn’t get enough.
Webinars, talks, and presentations
Taking lessons learned during the grant project and using the Biocontrol Family Field Day as an example, Dr. Stephanie Bolton gave a presentation called “Beneficial Insects – Sustainability Engagement” at the LODI RULES Sustainable Winegrowing Program’s annual meeting in January 2020 to an audience of over 150 farmers and viticulture professionals.
OUTREACH IN PROGRESS
We have filmed video from the Biocontrol Family Field Day and interviewed 4 of the 5 participating growers in October 2019. We are editing this footage for a release date of April 2020. We were hoping to show the video at a Mealybug & Virus Outreach Meeting on April 9, 2020, but this meeting has been postponed to May 19, 2020, and will likely need to be postponed again due to coronavirus concerns.
We host a popular weekly viticulture blog on our Lodi Winegrape Commission website, lodigrowers.com, where we will be able to share the story of the grant project and the video once it is finished.
Farmers, agricultural professionals, and our next generation of farmers gained awareness, knowledge, skills and more positive attitudes about the use of mealybug biocontrol in vineyards, including beneficial insects and pheromone mating disruption
Improved Income or Profitability / Improved Market Opportunities
Through this project, many farmers learned how to scout for beneficial insects, how to describe the importance of beneficial insects, and interesting facts about the biocontrol process (for example, how the Anagyrus wasp lays an egg inside the vine mealybug’s body) – all making for excellent conversation with potential winegrape buyers, to highlight the farmer’s efforts in sustainability. Additionally, many premium winegrape buyers (those paying a higher price per ton for winegrapes) expect less chemical inputs, which is possible when a farmer employs beneficial insects and pheromone mating disruption.
Not only did farmers learn about beneficial insects through our outreach, they also learned about the financially devastating costs of grapevine viruses. By using an integrated pest management approach to the vine mealybug (which includes biocontrol), the farmer will be able to prolong the use of certain insecticides, better control the vine mealybug, and reduce the economic impact and spread of both leafroll virus and vitiviruses in their vineyard and the neighbor’s vineyards around them.
Pheromone mating disruption is particularly effective in protecting the financial investment of a new vineyard from the vine mealybug populations around it. In our region, the use of pheromone mating disruption before this project was limited to only a few operations. We have seen a large rise in farmers willing to use mating disruption in 2020 as they realize the need to protect their vineyard investments.
Engaging the next generation on the farm is crucial for long-term success. Beneficial insects have proven to be an excellent way to engage children in farming – creating memories which will last a lifetime.
Improved Landscape Diversity/Ecological Services
Having learned the advantages of beneficial insects, farmers are more interested in keeping these “good bugs” alive by scouting the vineyard to ensure their pesticide spray programs are not accidentally killing the beneficials. They are also willing to plant hedgerows and cover crops to provide habitat for the insects, as high attendance a recent workshop held on March 10th for planting a vineyard hedgerow demonstrated. Luckily, the enhanced vineyard biodiversity is also great for pollinators and monarch butterflies.
Decreasing the reliance on chemical forms of plant protectants for vine mealybugs (our biggest pest issue in Lodi), as is the case with the use of biocontrol, also reduces any potentially harmful environmental effects of pesticides in our region.
PRODUCTION AND PRODUCTION EFFICIENCY
Improved Crop Production and/or Production Efficiency
Vine mealybugs vector, or spread, both leafroll virus and vitiviruses very efficiently. Leafroll virus can reduce crop yield and quality, and a combination of a leafroll virus and a vitivirus can cause a vineyard to collapse on certain rootstocks, including popular ones used in the Lodi region. By using biocontrol to lower populations and spread of the vine mealybug, the farmers are improving their crop yields and quality and helping to prevent the collapse of entire ranches.
Improved Agriculture and Food System Infrastructure / Improved Quality of Life
This SARE project and especially the Biocontrol Family Field Day has improved our relations with the California Department of Pesticide Regulations, the local county Ag Commissioner’s office, the local science museum, the Xerces Society, wine club members of grant collaborators, and our local community. In our region, home to America’s original sustainable winegrowing certification program (LODI RULES), all farmers contribute to and practice sustainable farming in one way or another but it is difficult to communicate this commitment. We found that the topic of beneficial insects and the community event of a Biocontrol Family Field Day were excellent ways to engage the public by showing and involving them in real-world, on-farm, scientifically-sound, exciting sustainable practices. Plus, we all had FUN!
FUTURE GRANT PROJECTS
We were hopeful that this grant project would be a stepping stone towards a larger grant project which could involve even more acres of vineyards. Our wishes came true as Dr. Kent Daane of UC Berkeley and the Lodi Winegrape Commission, along with other collaborators, will receive $1 million in funding for a project called “Refinement and Implementation of an Areawide Program for Vineyard Pathogens and their Insect Vectors.” This new project will establish two demonstration blocks of at least 1,000-acres each where pheromone disruption tools will be used to control vine mealybug, the insect responsible for vectoring grape leafroll disease (GLD).
We were also able to build upon knowledge gained during this demonstration grant project in two more grant awards for a very successful continuing virus outreach project titled “Grapevine Virus Management in Lodi: A Collaborative Research & Integrated Outreach Effort to Help Solve a Statewide Challenge.”
One of our project collaborators is a very economically-minded grower who never wastes money. Therefore, if he tells other growers that he believes in the value of using pheromone mating disruption (which at this time is quite expensive for Lodi growers), people will listen. As of today, this collaborator is leading an entire sub-AVA of Lodi (in the winegrowing world, this is a sub-category of a larger region) towards the use of collectively using pheromone mating disruption across thousands of acres through a project called the Jahant Alliance. Growers are voluntarily coming together on a neighborhood-wide basis to learn, listen, and plan for a more successful and sustainable future together. It’s a beautiful thing!