Wineries in Ontario's Essex region on guard as invasive bug makes Michigan appearance

·3 min read
Charles Wolters is the farm and cellar manager at Oxley Estate Winery in Harrow, Ont. He says he keeps an eye out for the spotted lanternfly while he works. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
Charles Wolters is the farm and cellar manager at Oxley Estate Winery in Harrow, Ont. He says he keeps an eye out for the spotted lanternfly while he works. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

Wineries in Ontario's Essex region are on edge and on the lookout for an invasive species that has made its way into Michigan, wreaking havoc on U.S. grape crops.

"We're watching very carefully," said Charles Wolters, farm and cellar manager at Oxley Estate Winery in Harrow, Ont.

The spotted lanternfly, which originated in Asia, kills plants by sucking sap from leaves and stems. The bug is described as grey with black spots when its wings are closed. It feeds on 70 species of trees and plants, including apple and grape.

They were discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014. According to media reports in the U.S., there have been infestations of the bug detected in 12 states. Officials in New York are asking for $22 million in federal funding to deal with the bug.

 Lawrence Barringer/Bugwood.org
Lawrence Barringer/Bugwood.org

"So far, there's no silver bullet for protection or eradication, so we're a little bit anxious about this one," Wolters said.

It has yet to be spotted in Canada, but was seen in Pontiac, Mich., near Niagara, Ont., just last week. It's raising the alarm level on vineyards in our country.

"It's as much wine as well the quality of the wine, so we're able to make some pretty fantastic grapes here, but if we can't get it to full maturity with the appropriate amount of sugar, we can't make good wine," Wolters said.

Leslie Balsillie is helping monitor the program funded in part by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to set up traps and put posters in places like Pelee Island and the Windsor harbour.

"We just want to find it when it first arrives. It's going to come," Balsillie said.

"If you don't look, you don't know what you have, and with some of the other invasive insects that we didn't know we needed to look for then by the time you see so much damage ... they've caused huge losses for the areas that are affected."

Jacob Barker/CBC
Jacob Barker/CBC

Balsillie said there are more than 70 sites where traps are set in Ontario between Windsor and Niagara and all the way to Ottawa and the Toronto area.

"They're focusing on... transportation corridors that transportation trucks come in and they park and sit, recreational vehicles, so some of the parks."

'Excellent hitchhikers'

Researchers say early detection is key to keeping the potential for infestation under control.

"When we have early detection, we have the most tools in our toolbox," said Mike Philip, an entomologist with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Know what it looks like, keep an eye out for it and absolutely report it when you see it. - Mike Philip, entomologist with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Phillip said action they're taking since the Michigan spotting should prevent it from spreading in the short term, but because of its strong hold on the eastern United States, in the long run, the likelihood of a Canadian appearance is quite high.

"It's such an excellent hitchhike. It is hard to stop it from moving in somebody's car or it can lay its eggs on a trailer," Phillip said.

Anyone who spots the bug is asked to report it to the Invasive Species Centre or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Government of Canada
Government of Canada

"Know what it looks like, keep an eye out for it and absolutely report it when you see it," Phillip said. "If you see it, squish it [and] take a picture of it."