From LUCY NEELY
The story of the European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) in Mendocino County demonstrates the risks inherent in globalized agriculture and in monocropping Mendocino County in grapes. Conversely, it shows the advantages of a local, diversified food system’s greater resistance to pests, disease, and market fluctuation. It provides a challenging exercise in reconciling the reality of grapes with the idealism of a local food system.
When I first heard about the EGVM in April, my gut reaction was, “That’s what we get for monocropping the county,” and I didn’t think much more about it. But I became interested in the EGVM when I heard that work at the County Department of Agriculture had been consumed by the moth, while I heard nothing of grapes being consumed by the moth.
To understand this phenomenon, I talked to Tony Linegar, Agriculture Commissioner of Mendocino County.
“I’ve been eating, breathing, sleeping the EGVM,” Tony declares. “We’re all working extra hours.” So this moth must be bad! Really harming the crops? Well, not exactly. 1,400 traps were set in Mendocino County to survey the moth’s presence. The traps yielded 35 moths, all of them in the Ukiah Valley. By comparison, Napa County’s traps turned up 100,000 moths.
Why does this moth merit so much attention if it isn’t destroying crops? “If you don’t treat for it, it could take your whole crop,” Linegar says. And since grapes are the biggest (legal) economy in Mendocino County, if that whole crop was taken, we could be belly up. So the Department of Agriculture has taken the necessary steps to control the moth and save Mendocino’s economy. These steps include spraying grapes with pesticides, mating disruption, and quarantine. All this is “extra work and extra costs” for everyone.
EGVM has the potential to wreak havoc on grape crops in Mendocino County, but it’s easy to kill with the proper attention. For now, the moth is a big hassle and a little ominous, and it doesn’t look like the hassle or the threat are going away, since nearby Napa will be infected for the foreseeable future.
So what lessons can be gleaned from the EGVM in Mendocino County? First, there’s monocropping. When I asked Tony if the monocropping of Mendocino County in grapes makes him nervous, referring to the vulnerability it creates to pests and disease, he paused and replied “a little bit,”