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Northern Michigan wineries keep watch for invasive lanternfly


A polka-dot pest is getting closer to Northern Michigan.

After a small population of spotted lanternfly was discovered in Oakland County, grape farmers say they remain optimistic but prepared for the worst.

Marcel Lenz, vineyard manager at Leelanau Cellars, says he’s not worried about losing his crop this fall but he’ll have to keep his guard up if the fly population grows.

“I think it could potentially be a problem but we’ll have to learn how to solve that problem, manage the problem and continue to grow grapes,” he said.

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species that poses a risk to grape harvests. (Photo provided)
Michigan Department of Agriculture
The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species that poses a risk to grape harvests. (Photo provided)

The spotted lanternfly is native to East Asia and was first spotted in the American Northeast in 2014. The red-winged pest produces a sticky liquid while feeding that could result in deadly mold for crops.

It has a particular craving for the invasive tree-of-heaven, but also feeds on a wide range of plants including black walnut, river birch, red maple and grapes.

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) spokesperson Jennifer Holton said the population of lantern flies down-state is mostly contained.

The flies can’t travel far if they fly on their own. But they're excellent hitchhikers, and officials worry they'll stow away with vacationers on their way up north.

“They move quite easily on firewood,” Holton said. “So when people are camping, traveling, going from space to space the flies can go with them."

But Northern Michigan Wineries knew it was coming. Spotted lanternfly has been identified in 11 states since arriving in the U.S. in 2014, moving slowly west with each year.

“Although not unexpected, this is certainly tough news to share due to its potential to for it to negatively impact Michigan’s grape industry,” said MDARD Director Gary McDowell in a press release, adding that his state agency is working with federal partners to inform and educate growers about the threat.

For Alea Melacrinos, of Nicholas Black River Vineyard in Cheboygan, it was the first she had heard of the lanternfly.

She and her family have owned the small Greek winery since the early 90s.

They have experience dealing with pests, and Melacrinos says she'll deal with the lanternfly the same way she’s dealt with others in years past.

“If there is a disease we’ll sample the soil or the leaves and take it to the health department and they’ll let us know if somethings wrong and what we need to do,” she said.

Holton said it’s too early to tell if the lanternfly will have any noticeable economic impact on Michigan wine or grape industries.

According to the 2020 USDA-NASS Grape Survey: Michigan is home to 10,900 acres of juice grapes and 3,375 acres of wine grapes.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development says it's important to check your vehicle before making any trips up north.

If you find a lanternfly, officials say you should squash it, along with any eggs you may find.

Report the sighting to Eyes in the Field. Photos are necessary to verify a report and to aid in identification.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.