FARM BEAT: High-tech gadgets join war on invasive pests in California

jholland@modbee.comApril 26, 2013 


FILE-- A glassy-winged sharpshooter, right, and the blue-green sharpshooter crawl on a leaf in this undated file photo. These sap-sucking leafhoppers are known to carry a bacteria causing Pierce's disease which is threatening California's grape crop. Now, the more powerful glassy winged sharpshooter is headed north that could take Pierce's deep into Northern California vineyards, and growers want to take no chances, forcibly spraying private gardens if necessary. (AP Photo/University of California, File)


    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John

Apple, the high-tech company, is helping to protect apples, the fruit, along with other crops around the state.

A campaign urges residents to take photos of invasive insects and plants with their iPhones or iPads. They then can transmit the images to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which will determine whether they are a threat.

The Report a Pest app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store. An Android version is under development, according to the CDFA.

So, the bug and weed fighters have one more tool for their long-running effort to protect farms, ranches, forests and waterways from pests.

Some of the work is low-tech, such as when inspectors simply look at nursery plants for insects. Some of it relies on dogs, whose ability to sniff out produce in mail shipments is as impressive as anything out of Silicon Valley.

The stakes are huge. The Modesto area's wine industry could suffer if the European grapevine moth were to take hold in vineyards. The Fresno area's citrus growers want no part of a disease named huanglongbing that can turn their fruit green.

Up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, yellow star thistle crowds out grasses that feed cattle. Down in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, water hyacinth has spread across waterways like shag carpeting in a 1970s rec room.

Pests can travel on firewood from Modesto to a Pinecrest campground, hitch a ride in a box of fruit mailed across the country, or arrive in the ballast water of freighters from Asia.

In spite of all the threats, California produces a bounty, thanks to efforts by farmers; other landowners; and county, state and federal agencies.

The app builds on the online pest reporting on the CDFA website. Owners of iPads and iPhones can use GPS coordinates to show the location of the find, allowing the department to respond quickly to emergencies.

The CDFA has tips for taking pest photos. It helps, for example, to place an insect next to a coin or other common object to give an idea of its size.

If you're nice, you might hand the bug an itty-bitty comb before the photo shoot, but that's your call.

More information about the Report a Pest app is at

Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at or (209) 578-2385.


April is Invasive Plant, Pest and Disease Awareness Month, a national effort to protect farms, forests and other places from damage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers these tips:

• Burn firewood close to where you bought it. Pests and their larvae can hide and ride long distances in the wood. If you must move it, make sure it has been heat-treated.

• Buy garden plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species at all costs.

• Don't bring or mail fresh fruits, plants, vegetables or other food into or out of your state unless agricultural inspectors have cleared them beforehand.

• Cooperate with quarantines by observing restrictions and allowing authorized workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.

• Wash outdoor gear and tires so they're free of soil before leaving fishing, hunting or camping sites. Check vehicles for egg masses and other signs of insects. Clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items when moving.

• Declare all agricultural items to customs officials when returning from international travel.

• Report signs of an invasive pest or disease at

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