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Sustainable Winegrowing with Vineyard Team

Sustainable Winegrowing with the Vineyard Team brings you the latest in science and research for the wine industry. This on-the-go, sustainable farming educational resource provides in-depth technical information on topics like integrated pest management, fruit quality, water conservation, and nutrient management from experts like Dr. Mark Fuchs of Cornell University, Dr. Michelle Moyer of Washington State University, Cooperative Extension Specialists, veteran growers, and more. Our podcasts will help you make smarter, sustainable vineyard management decisions to increase efficiency, conserve resources, and maximize fruit quality.

Apr 6, 2023

Vineyard farmers manage numerous pests but the invasive species can be some of the most troublesome. Kyle McAbee, President of McAbee Ag Consulting, PCA and CCA sustainability specialist shares what growers need to know to manage pests currently in their area, like Vine Mealybug, and prepare for ones that could come in the future, like Spotted Lantern Fly. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is critical. Sustainable and conventional growers should rotate chemistries, scout to track location, time of year, and mating events, look at how other areas manage the pest, control host species, and be ready to do something about the issue. Most importantly, growers should talk with their Ag Commissioner, Farm Advisor, and each other.


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Craig Macmillan  0:00 

Our guest today is Kyle McAbee. He is president of McAbee Ag Consulting. He is a licensed pest control advisor, and certified crop advisor with a certification in sustainability specialization. And we're going to talk about pests. Thanks for being thanks for being on podcast Kyle.


Kyle McAbee  0:18 

Yeah, good to be with you Craig.


Craig Macmillan  0:20 

So you and I were just chatting. And I also been thinking about this a lot recently. And one of the big challenges for sustainability in agriculture in general was pest management, obviously. And I've been looking back into the past and kind of watching things. And I've been wondering if you see something similar to this, have you seen changes in pest pressure, different kinds of pressure, particular pest in different regions? In the last seven or eight years?


Kyle McAbee  0:46 

Yes, absolutely. Definitely seen, you know, fluctuations in pest pressure, with certain pests, likely an average overtime average, slow increase, but that said, you know, it's it's year to year, some years, you know, we're looking for certain pests in places that we've seen them for years in and years out and can't find them. I'll give you an example. Last year, the mite population, in particular Paso Robles, but I think in a wider area, you know, I speak with a lot of different PCAs in the local industry, and we're all scratching our heads wondering, you know, hey, we've had Pacific Mite these blocks for the last six, seven years in, we can't find one this year. It just depends on the season and what pest we're talking about, of course, too.


Craig Macmillan  1:29 

And that's a really interesting one to me, because that suggests that biological control is working, right? Because you're not treating for mites unless you're seeing mites. So it's not a question of a prophylactic set of sprays, necessarily, they've knocked on the population, one would think, or maybe it's some kind of changing climate reason.


Kyle McAbee  1:48 

When we're looking at any of these populations, whether it be pest or whether it be a beneficial insect. It is absolutely environmentally based, whether, you know, we had a warm winter, and it didn't knock back the overwintering populations as normal, or we had an extremely cold winter, which, you know, could further give us some over over winter kill on the overwintering populations, depending on what pest we're talking about, obviously, but yeah, environmental chemicals that are being used, and well, not even chemicals. You know, of course, cultural practices, you know, what folks are doing for dust control for mites? For example, you know, there's just so many factors. But yes, I do think environment and warm winters, and obviously, warm spring and summer have played a big part in increased pest pressure, and particularly mealybug.


Craig Macmillan  2:34 

Yeah, so with mites, we just talked about a decline. And when we're talking about vine mealybug, I've been hearing the same thing. And it seemed like, well, back in the 90s, when it showed up, it was just a disaster. I mean, it was really, really bad, you know, and it's never gonna go away. But then things seem like they kind of settled down. I mean, he still had to deal with it. But it wasn't the kind of incredible devastation that we saw in the late 90s. Now you're seeing these things start to these populations and the damage start to come back up, right?


Kyle McAbee  3:02 

Yes, I do believe that, you know, as an industry, overall, we've definitely seen an increase in the last, I guess, eight harvests or so that have been in Paso Robles. And not just Paos Robles, you know, kind of up and down the central coast. And yeah, yeah, absolutely seen seen situations where, you know, we've been in control of vine mealybug in certain areas, you know, our hotspots, if you will, is that all of a sudden, we've kind of lost control lost a grip a little bit, or, you know, they're starting to win a little bit more than they were before. Additionally, and more importantly, to me, is we've got blocks and vineyards, that historically, you know, we've been rigorously scouting them season in and season out. And all of a sudden, we're finding mealy bugs, and I'm, and, you know, we'll, you know, blocks that we've trapped, for years just preempt, you know, preventatively to monitor the population that way as well. All of a sudden, we start getting a, you know, a couple counts here, and a couple of counts there. And so we start paying closer attention. And, you know, couple year two, year three after that, then we, you know, all of a sudden, hey, we found some vines with mealybug, on Vine mealybug. And knowing that, you know, had not had that problem in those blocks previously. So new populations moving into new blocks.


Craig Macmillan  4:17 

From what I understand we're finding vi mealybug in areas where we haven't had it before. We're seeing increases in the counts, populations are there. Do you have some ideas about why that might be?


Kyle McAbee  4:29 

Two different things going on here? We're gonna start with areas blocks of vineyards that we know we've had hotspots of vine mealybug we've been watching them and fighting them for years, maybe a decade for some folks maybe longer for others in those areas. You know, we've had successful years weather that we've had help from Mother Nature and those years in addition to our, you know, IPM programs, whatever it may be, but I do know that over time in the last, you know, five years call it I've definitely had some areas where I've seen Those spots increase, and I've started to scratch my head. And despite the fact that I rotate chemicals, and, you know, IRAC groups and all that, and our cultural practices, I do see, you know, some loss of control in those areas and increase in population and maybe, you know, even growth, you know, outward into the vineyard, you know, I think that, in particular has a lot to do part just in part, but a lot of it is that has got to do with maybe some chemical resistance, some some product resistance, you know, in particular, the neonic, the IRAC 4A's have been so widely used year in and year out, over and over, I've been very suspicious of resistance to those, I don't lean just on those, but I've definitely seen areas where we get no control from those products. And so I've done some work with the USDA to look into that, in particularly one vineyard in Monterey County, we, you know, we took samples of the population, and that was an inconclusive test, you know, there's many reasons as to why that didn't, didn't really work out, a lot of it was the protocol in the lab and how they were doing it, but that doesn't change my mind. And the idea that we do have some resistance to, to those products, not just to pick on those, but I think that's where first place to start, if we're going to talk about resistance with my mealybug I think that's a big part of the problem. The other part of that the meaning, you know, hotspots that are have spread, or you know, are getting worse, I think that those vines are getting older, and the, you know, the bark is fluffing, and there's just more protection for them underneath the bark, as opposed to young, young vineyard, you know, so those hotspots, you know, obviously, as you go, you know, 5, 6, 7, 8 years later, well, those vines are a whole different environment for vine mealybug. And I think that plays a big part into it as well, you get some old grenache or syrah or whatever it may be some of these varietals that that do tend to really multilayers of slough bark, it's just impossible to get any of these chemistries, whether it be organic, or conventional, whatever it may be any of these products in there, and there's just too many places for him to hide, there's got to be some sort of resistance issues, at least that's my opinion, I think others agree. But there's also you know, environmental factors, not just the weather, but you know, in the more of a micro environment for these insects. So you know, these these areas that we've had these populations that we've monitored, that we've been fighting for years, and been successful all the sudden, you know, you're seeing lack of control, and you're having a hard time with even new products, and new chemistries, and additional rotation and stuff. And I think that's got a lot to do with, you know, those vines have changed in the you know, those five or 10 years, you know, they've gotten older and a big part of, as we all know, are most you know, most folks know, and older vines got, you know, much more complex bark system on the trunks and cordons, multi layers, much more area for these these insects to hide under the bark and where we can't make contact with them. And I think that's a big part of it that I know a lot of folks have talked about, and we're all aware of and there's just, you know, what do you do? Right, but I think that's a big part of why these hotspots have have gotten worse, personally, it's coverage at that point, right? It's it's simply coverage.


Craig Macmillan  8:20 

In the world of fungicides we faced this for a long time. And the question then is they go Okay, now what do I do? Where do I go from here? I've become dependent on certain materials? Now I'm trying different things. I'm still like in control software chemistries, we're talking about organophosphates, or anything. What's your strategy? What do you think? And where are you going to go in the future with this?


Kyle McAbee  8:39 

I'm not the only one doing this. But we in our problem areas, we rotate our chemistries a lot, but that's not all we do. A big part of this is scouting, obviously, you know, we we have to stay on top of it and monitoring any spread or new hotspots. So that's a big one. Another huge part. I mean, okay, so you've identified where they're at, well, what do you do? Well, trapping is a huge part of this cultural practice, if you will, in monitoring not just where they're at, and what they're doing, but mating events and trying to attack these things from the inside out, in addition to chemical programs that are, you know, we all use a lot of the same products, which is kind of why I touched on potential for resistance, but trapping and reacting accordingly. So looking at those meaning events, if you're going to trap, you better be willing to do something about it. Okay, we've got a count of 50 in this trap. Well, the clock is ticking. You know, that mating event is happening. Now. You don't have seven days, you don't have 14 days, you need to be able to get out there now. And if you're using floatable meeting disruptors, you've got to be willing to go out there and spray that at least that area, you don't have to spray the whole vineyard but you know, depending on the size of the property, reacting to it accordingly. The other option, you know, some of these mating disruption companies, they have the hangers and those last long So you can, you know, you've got a hotspot in an area. And as soon as you get that first flight, you know, hang those things out there in the spring, you'll likely, you know, disrupt a couple mating events at that point, you know, I believe they call for a lot of those that last, you know, 90 days or so depending on the weather. I know for a fact they're working on ones that their prototypes at this point, but they are supposed to last quite a bit longer than that. So I mean, we're talking a big chunk of our season at that point, and it goes to the organic versus conventional, right. So the flowable is not organic, certified, the cards are, well, just because you're conventional, doesn't mean you don't use the cards, I think the cards are a big part of that, you know, that meeting disruption process. So if you're conventional, I think, you know, don't look away from the cards just because they're organic. I mean, there's a lot of benefits to those things.


Craig Macmillan  10:47 

Absolutely. And I think I've seen that in powdery mildew management to where folks that are not certified organic are putting a lot of Omri approved products in their in their rotation, which is interesting, because that was so that was certainly not the case back in the day. Okay. So this is a great example where we had an invasive pest, we've been trying to figure out what to do now we're trying new things, and it's gonna be constant, right. But what about new invasive pests? There's a couple of things that are out there that I think it's only a matter of time before they show up here in California, or Washington or Oregon or the other direction in your mind, because you're scouting really carefully. You're looking for stuff, all kinds of things. So you obviously you're scouting for pests that you know, but I'm guessing that you're scouting for insects, you don't know, what do you do? What would you recommend as a game plan? If I find something that's new, I don't want to get a toehold.


Kyle McAbee  11:39 

Oh, yeah. Well, number one, if it's a new sighting of an invasive species, notifying the Ag Commissioner letting the you know making sure that USDA gets involved and making them aware of it, because a big part of it is it's a big picture. Program. So that's, that's number one. If you're one of the first people to find it, or if it's new to your area, if it's in your area, and it's new to your property or your your vineyard or whatever it may be looking at the States or the country, or countries that that that pest has come from and doing research and looking at what they've done looking at what they're doing there. Is there anything that they've done that is successful to mitigate that pest or deal with it? I think the spotted lantern fly is a good example. I don't think anybody knows exactly what to do with that. With that pest yet. I've obviously I don't have any direct connection with spotted lantern fly being you know, a PCA in California, however, I have done research on it, knowing that it unfortunately isn't inevitably likely to come to California, it's an invasive species from China, it was likely brought in over, you know, cargo ships and things like that. They're, they're very good movers, they lay their egg masses on semi trucks and, you know, see trains and just vehicles and they they can travel across the country that way. That's why I feel inevitably will likely be seeing some of this, you know, in the news or something. In the United States My understanding is it's you know, mostly focused on the East Coast. That's where it came in. I think Pennsylvania might have been first one I know New Jersey and Virginia, I think West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, I think maybe even a couple others have had this issue. And it's a very, it's a very big problem. Not just for the vineyard, it is a problem for the vineyards. But it's a nuisance as well just you know, across communities. And if you have a tasting room next year, your vineyard they pretty good fliers, they're large insect, they're not afraid of humans so they can kind of swarm and just become an issue. But regarding vineyard pest control, they're very, very good feeders. They're aggressive feeders and they will suck a vine dry in in one one to two years and just take all the life out of the vines and that's that's the concern there. The other concern obviously with as goes most invasive species, we don't really have IPM program for them we don't we don't really know what to do we don't have products registered for them. We don't have spotted lantern fly for example written on really any labels that we can use and also bio control, you know, we that's part of an invasive species as well, but it likely didn't bring their you know, their predators with them, you know, their enemies. So I know they're doing work with the native bio control insects in that are in China. Currently, gypsy moth, I believe is one of them. And I believe they're doing some work with some different fungi and things like that. Yeah, I think one big thing to note that I've read is Tree of Heaven is is you know, obviously an invasive species as well from China. That's its host plant in China. So I know we've got it here. I've got areas I've been fighting, you know, Tree of Heaven for a while. So one of the biggest things other than looking for this insect is once it comes here, even now making sure you're controlling that Tree of Heaven, get rid of that stuff and not an easy one to take care of. But that's that's a big part of it, too.


Craig Macmillan  14:52 

I live in the city of Paso Robles, and there's a little patch of it like right on the city limit on buying Street. It's spreading come into town. Like it's grown. It's grown up through sidewalks and stuff. And you know, as the biology pages look at, and you're like, oh my god, like, this is just a monster. I'm like, what are you gonna? Do? You know? But yeah, you're absolutely right as if you can identify those plants ahead of time and work on those. That's a great, great idea. Do you have any kind of plan? Not maybe not even for just spotted lantern fly, but let's say we get a report of something.


Kyle McAbee  15:28 

Right? And that's how it's gonna happen. I mean, somebody's gonna find it somewhere. And then we're all gonna go, oh, man, what do we do? This is already part of my work anyway, is getting rid of the Tree of Heaven, trying to minimize any reason for that particular pest or other pests? You know, you got you just got to look at their hosts, I mean, their host plants, their host environment, where did they, you know, not just spotted lantern fly, but you know, other invasive species that we're looking at that are making their way into this country? And in figuring out what is their biology? What is their host environment or or plant or whatever it may be? If it it has shown up in other areas, you know, where did it come in, look at what the folks in, you know, country or other area that this invasive pest has come from? What do they do? What what products are they using? And what have they done to control it? Right? Maybe they haven't maybe it's such an aggressive problem. They haven't done it. I think number one, obviously is looking for it. For example, we get a report of spotted lantern fly, like you said in in Napa, or somewhere in California, then okay, well, it's probably here somewhere, just training your folks training your employees, you know, making sure your PCA and his his or her scouts are looking for these pests is important. And it found reporting it you know, not just to not just to the customer, you know, not just to the grower, it needs to be known on a state level or county level, you know, contacting the Ag Commissioner and asking them where, you know, what do we do with this information? Somebody needs to know about it, and making sure the USDA is aware of it. And in that way we they can kind of start tracking, you know, whatever insect it may be. But yeah, on a on a more micro level on on your own operation, looking at what products may be available to try to find it once you have it, looking at what the what they're doing and other maybe other states that have been fighting it for a while, what have they been successful with? And contacting, you know, farm advisors and talking to them about it, you know, Hey, have you guys figured out in the bio control? That's always a tough one. It's not just as simple as Okay, well, lantern fly in China, their main, you know, arch nemesis is the Gypsy Moth, well, let's just bring the Gypsy Moth over well, it's not that simple. Because there's, there's a lot of years of studies that have to go into that to make sure you're not gonna cause that insects. But looking at that, I mean, maybe that's already been done on whatever invasive species may come in, maybe that's already been figured out, and we have access to it. Who knows, you know,


Craig Macmillan  17:53 

Or maybe we have an organism already here, that's similar enough that it can do something I think in terms of in terms of like predators, definitely, I think that's an option. And maybe we can do some augmentative biological control or something like that. It does sound like one of our best strategies might be to take cultural approaches initially, and just make it an unfriendly place. And then, and then kind of go from there. And like you said, see what other people have done and kind of go from there. I think that's the tricky thing, mealybug, all kinds of things, bugs and virus. We've learned a lot internationally in the last 10 years, which has been great that we've got folks working on this syndrome, variety of places we can learn from what they do, we're kind of running out of time, I want to ask you, though, in terms of sustainable pest control, and this can be fungi, this can be insect can be nematodes, it could be anything, what one piece of advice, or what one take home idea would you give to a grower if they say hey, I want to manage my vineyard in a sustainable fashion? How do I control my pests?


Kyle McAbee  18:55 

Sustainability is, you know, very well correlated with IPM touched on cultural practices and things outside of, of chemical control, trapping, you know, looking looking at mating events, again, like you mentioned, making the environment unfriendly for whatever pest it may be, you know, scouting, making sure that you're aware of what is actually happening out there, what pests are out there, where they're at, in making sure something doesn't get out of control before you know it's there. Because it's really hard. Even on a you know, more aggressive, more conventional program, it's hard to reach back and knock down a population, it's much easier to to get them early on. Right? It just depends on what we're talking about when I say cultural control, looking at you know, hey, are there weeds that are causing the problem on the ground? Is it are you creating a secondary host or environment for X pests, right, keeping those things down and, you know, making sure you're not spreading them mechanically looking at you know, on a sustainable program, rotating different groups if you're on a conventional sustainable program if you're you know, if you're going for the organic products only or your organic certified then looking at those different bio insecticides or organic insecticides that are out there and what your options are, and making sure you're talking to people talking to people that have been doing it, talk to various people get multiple opinions. And one thing I've always heard about PCAs is talked to three, and you'll get three different opinions, which is good, though, because then you can kind of dig through it and see what the best options are, maybe use all three different ideas in in a rotational factor, you know, I've always been an advocate of, you know, communication with with each other. And we're all on this together. And, you know, making sure that we're all learning from one another and figuring out what worked for others and what didn't work for him, and so on and so forth.


Craig Macmillan  20:43 

Yeah, exactly. And one thing I want to underline with what you just said is, you know, Scout Scout Scout monitor, monitor, monitor, record, record record, and then go back and look at those and look for those trends. And, and then the second thing being cultural, I think that's a really important idea is that if we can modify the environment, we can do a lot of good. And I think mites is a classic example mites and dust, so where can people find out more about you?


Kyle McAbee  21:06 

Honestly, the best way to get a hold of me is either email or phone. I, I'm not very present on social media, with my business. I do have a Facebook, it's, you know, McAbee Ag Consulting. But that said, I think the best way to get a hold of me would be either to call me text me or email me, and I can give you that information.


Craig Macmillan  21:25 

And we can put that information in the show notes, folks will be able to find you. This has been great. Thanks so much. I guess today it was Kyle McAbee. He is president of McAbee Ag Consulting, and He is a licensed pest control advisor and certified crop advisor with the sustainability specialization. Thanks so much, Kyle. This has really been a joy. I'm really, really glad you were here.


Kyle McAbee  21:45 

Yeah, thank you, Craig. Appreciate it.


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