Federal grants to help fight pests in Washington

KENNEWICK — Recent federal grants will help Washington continue to send out a SWAT team to go after snails and evasive moths that like to munch on grapes.

State agriculture officials say those pests can cut billions out of Washington’s exports each year, The Tri-City Herald reported.

The state and its universities have been awarded almost $816,000 for pest prevention and management projects by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The money was made available in the recently approved federal farm bill.

The state used to get money from the USDA’s Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey to pay for pest detection, but that program has been cut.

A $50,000 grant will pay to eradicate vineyard snails, which destroy wheat and grain crops and have set up temporary digs at the Port of Tacoma.

The snails attach themselves to objects such as cargo containers and vehicles and then get carried along, said Jim Marra, the state Department of Agriculture acting pest program manager.

The pest has not spread into agricultural areas of the state yet, and it’s important to get rid of them before they can get that far, Marra said.

If the snails set up residence permanently, Washington could face trade restrictions. Wheat is the state’s second-most valued commodity after apples, with a 2012 value of $1.2 billion, according to the USDA.

The infestation has shrunk from about 300 acres to about 20 acres owned by the port and adjacent to port property. The effort has involved removing debris, wood piles and garbage and cutting back vegetation that allows snails to hide, Marra said.

Officials have used a pesticide. It still may take a couple more years to completely kill off all of them.

“Snails are very difficult to eradicate,” Marra said.

A $94,000 grant will pay for setting traps to detect pests in grape-growing areas, where invasive insects might enter, such as near nurseries. The idea is to detect them early, before they gain a foothold.

The European grapevine moth is of particular concern because it’s already established in California, Marra said. While officials haven’t found any so far, it is among the most likely to travel into the state.

The moth is very destructive, with larvae penetrating into grapes and destroying the fruit, he said.

A $139,000 grant will help the Western States Lepidoptera Diagnostic Center help other state identify moths.

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Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com

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