Uninvited And Unwanted, Vineyard Pests Demand Attention

By: Gerald Dlubala

Vineyard pests are more than just unwanted guests. They can devastate crop yields, attract other pests, and bring along disease and contamination. Depending on the grape varietal and its location, landscape, and environment, the type and number of pests grape growers battle can change on an annual basis.

Ground Battles

The most common type of pest control is the use of pesticides. According to Lisa Malabad, Product Marketing Manager and Cannabis segment lead at Marrone Bio Innovations, pesticides are most successful when the vineyard manager considers the necessities of the vineyard before purchasing a product.

“There are no silver bullets because there are many factors that go into pesticide choice, including application window, ease of use, maximum allowance/season, application resistance and any additional resistance that may have developed that reduces the effectiveness of the applied product. Because of all the changing variables, it’s becoming more common for growers to add biological crop protection into their pest control programs,” Malabad said. Marrone Bio Innovations creates industry-leading platforms of pest management solutions for the agricultural community. Their products help increase crop yield while decreasing chemical residue and pesticide loads in the environment.

However, biological crop protection cannot wholly reduce pests on its own. Marrone Bio recommends a strong, integrated pest management program that includes three main controls: biological, cultural, and pesticides.

“The key to a robust pest management system is monitoring, scouting, assessing and treating in various methods,” says Malabad. “There are considerable products on the market today that are labeled for grapes while providing some level of control for key pests. They fall into three main types: biologicals use natural enemies to attack unwanted pests; cultural methods involve planting cover crops to inhibit or drive away those that are unwanted; and pesticides, which fall into either the organic or synthetic category.”

Integrated pest management programs allow vineyard managers and workers to get to know the vineyard and the changes it goes through from week-to-week throughout the season.

“There is no one answer,” says Malabad, “which is why most growers in California have trusted Pest Control Advisors that consult with the growers for best management practices. Different pests affect the vineyards at different times of the year, but mealybugs, leafhoppers, and mites are the more commonly found insects. Pest pressure and intensity changes from year to year, so many growers are starting to look at preventative measures to control pests. Each varietal has its nuances, so getting ahead of the problem is critical. Ground makeup, cultural practices and micro-climates will determine the best overall pest management program within any unique block, so field scouting is the most important tool we have to determine treatment thresholds and preferred treatment times.”

Marrone Bio offers a pair of organic insecticide options for grape growers to include in their programs. Venerate XC is a liquid, easily mixed and sprayed for repeated success against mites while being soft on both the beneficial insects and pollinators that are so important to vineyard success. Grandevo WDC is equally successful in strengthening any pest control program against mealybugs.

Oil-Based

Since 1977, JMS Flower Farms has been helping farmers eradicate powdery mildew, aphids, whiteflies, mites and more in grape crops with their JMS Stylet-Oil, an all-in-one, environmentally safe, white mineral oil-based insecticide, fungicide and plant disease controller that is food grade quality, colorless, tasteless and odorless. Extensive research has shown no effect on the flavor, taste or aroma of grapes or wine.

Stylet-Oil works by physical contact, requiring applicators to wear coveralls, chemical resistant gloves, and shoes and socks. Once applied through a sprayer, the oil acts as a smothering agent, killing powdery mildew on contact, and also preventing insect respiration, spore germination and the attachment of organisms to the host plant.

One of the benefits of using a mineral oil-based treatment like JMS Stylet-Oil is that it prevents mildew development, kills infections both before and after they are visible, and prevents sporulation. It has also proved effective against Botrytis bunch rot and when used as a resistance management tool. JMS recommends the oil as the first step in a powdery mildew treatment program to eradicate the strains before they become resistant.

Bird Battles

Dan Kramer, Technical Director of Avian Enterprises, wants nothing more than to make unwanted guests, in his case, the birds and geese, unhappy. Unhappy enough that they don’t want to come back to your vineyard. Ever. He considers himself a wine aficionado and wants his favorite grape growers to be successful and available. Continually, he’s heard one thing over and over from disgruntled vineyard owners at trade shows, most recently in Sacramento.

“Birds are decimating their crops,” says Kramer, “and that’s not an exaggeration. A group of birds can descend in numbers and do significant damage in no time at all. You’ll first notice a couple of scout birds, and before you know it, your grape crop is infested. That’s just the beginning. Birds just love to leave half-eaten grapes around, readily inviting other damaging pests and disease-carrying rodents to the party, and all of those droppings being left behind are an additional vector for disease and illness. We know that small groups of birds control the movement of the flock, so our goal with our Avian Control bird repellent is to make those birds around your vineyard unhappy. Avian Control makes them unhappy, and unhappiness leads them away.”

Avian Control is a liquid product that is most commonly applied by an air blast sprayer, a piece of equipment that many vineyards already have on hand. Applications are put directly on the fruit but do not affect the growing fruit strand. Kramer suggests applying the liquid every ten days as the product breaks down into a gaseous state.

“I liken it to our reaction to pepper spray,” says Kramer. “It affects the bird’s trigeminal nerve, triggering distress and carrying those sensations to the brain. They can absorb it through their feet when they touch it, through their mouths when tasting it, and when the product is transforming into a gaseous state, the birds will notice it by way of their nasal passages.”

It’s effective on birds only, which is a big advantage, and because of an invisible stain on the vegetation and bird’s eyesight sensitivity to UV rays, they will come to learn and recognize Avian Control treated areas.

“You’ll see the birds fly in, move around, leave, and maybe repeat once or twice before finally leaving altogether,” says Kramer. “They realize that something isn’t right within the treated areas and then respond to those areas as if they are off limits, moving on to more accessible areas.”

Avian Control has significantly reduced crop loss while overcoming objections about possible taste issues. Minimal dosing compared to other products is a significant factor in this accomplishment, with the use of 32 ounces per acre versus a two and a half gallon per acre spread rate for other treatments. In taste tests where the winemaker knew he was tasting the same grapes from a treated vs. untreated group, he was unable to discern any difference between the two tastings. Avian Control is a green, biodegradable product, featuring a one hundred percent break down rate with total non-toxicity.

“Netting is a great idea in concept, but it gets very costly with the amount of time and labor involved, and it also restricts airflow,” says Kramer. “And guess what? You still get birds in there anyway. For goodness sake, use your air blast sprayer that you likely have on hand, and save on time, money and labor costs. You can spread our product for about thirty-five dollars per acre, three times a year, rather than spending eight hundred dollars per acre installing and uninstalling those pain in the rear nets.”

Eye In The Sky

Wayne Ackermann, Director of Business Development for The Bird Control Group, keeps those birds away from your grapevines by using his automated laser bird repellent. Ackermann previously worked in the wine industry and used the Agrilaser Autonomic for his own agricultural needs before ultimately joining the company. The Agrilaser Autonomic is a fully automated bird repellent that uses lasers to deter birds around the clock. Sounds simple, but a significant amount of technology is behind the success of the device.

“With a laser, the human eye sees the dot, but the birds see the full beam, almost in the way that we see a laser when it’s projected through fog or steam. The birds see the whole thing, like a sword or stick, or as I like to say, a lightsaber,” says Ackermann. “The beam appears to them to be a real, physical, dangerous object coming towards them, so they scatter to get out of the perceived path. First trials were very successful in blueberry farms, so the next logical steps were to expand to vineyards, where it has proved to be a very effective tool, not only here but in international trials as well.”

Often, says Ackerman, only one unit is needed to keep birds away.

“Individual farm landscapes, terrain, and planting row density make a difference, as does canopy heights,” says Ackermann. “We start with one unit, which generally handles an eight to twelve-acre range. If more coverage is needed, we add additional units to overlap and provide cross coverage.”

The units can run by standard power or solar. Standard power is preferred if available in the fields because of longer run times and fewer potential complications, but if you want physical portability in the unit, then the solar panel option can be a useful upgrade. Each unit is programmable with up to 16 different patterns and one hundred different waypoints so that the birds won’t become accustomed to the same model. The Bird Control Group can set and program the units and also train the users of the units using their software program and a standard Windows-based laptop.

“It becomes very intuitive and user-friendly,” said Ackermann. “And the success rate of the laser technology has been significant.”

However, Ackermann says that they are continually learning and improving through new studies and the experiences of current customers.

“Hey, these birds are smart,” said Ackermann. “They get accustomed to all kinds of things like thump cannons, squawk boxes, ribbons and balloons. So far, lasers have worked out very well with a reported 70% success rate in keeping birds away. That number grows if you use it in conjunction with other options.”

Maintenance on the Agrilaser Autonomic is simple and straightforward, with regular lens cleaning and battery replacements. An internal timer and regular programs control the lasers, which come with a one-year warranty.

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