Since a single live codling moth in a box of fruit has the potential to close a major export market, efforts are being intensified to take care of unmanaged trees or orchards.

Doug England, manager of Manson Growers Cooperative at Manson, Washington, said Taiwan has rigid requirements for the apples that it imports in terms of codling moth control. And, access to several other markets could be jeopardized by infestations of apple maggot, a pest that was once confined mainly to western Washington but in recent years has been showing up in major fruit-producing counties. England said unmanaged or neglected orchards are prime candidates for infestation by that pest.

He and a group of growers from the Chelan, Washington, area helped persuade Chelan County commissioners to provide funding to remove problem orchards. Many orchards in that area have been taken out of production either for speculation or development. In some orchards, the trees haven’t been removed. In others where they have been removed, there is regrowth that can provide habitat for pests.

All this is happening at a time when pest control is becoming more expensive and growers are under pressure to minimize pesticide use in order to reduce worker exposure, England said. “It’s really difficult to grow apples if your neighbors are not even in the agriculture business.”

Dr. Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council, said an abandoned or unmanaged orchard might make it difficult for a neighboring commercial orchard to meet the protocol to qualify for export to Taiwan and could affect the grower financially. And the detection of a live codling moth larva in Taiwan could shut out the whole industry.

No money

Marlane Gurnard, coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Counties Pest and Disease Board, said Chelan County commissioners will provide up to $75,000 to remove orchards where the growers don’t have the means to do it themselves.

Under an interagency agreement with the Washington State Department of Agriculture program, the county’s costs can be reimbursed by the state. A lien is then put on the property to recoup the money when the property is sold. That money then goes into the Pest Board’s budget. Gurnard said she has also requested $54,000 from Douglas County for the same purpose.

However, Gurnard said she hopes that some growers will be able to go ahead and pay themselves to have orchard removed without needing to go through that process.

Grant County Horticultural Pest and Disease Board recently introduced a pest management contract, or consent order, that owners of unmanaged trees are asked to sign. In it, the owners agree that if they fail to control pests to commercial standards, their trees will be removed at their expense.

Jody Kane, part-time field representative for the pest board, said this is proving simpler and cheaper for everyone involved than having to seek court orders to address the situation. It’s also less time-consuming, which is critical when it comes to controlling pests that threaten commercial orchards. Previously, when the board had to seek court action, an entire growing season could go by before the problem was addressed.

Kane said owners of two problem orchard blocks, which were adjacent to commercial orchards, signed the two-year contracts. The blocks were planted for commercial production, but are not the owners’ sole source of income.

In a nine-acre block, the pests are being controlled. The other, three-acre block was removed last fall.

The primary concern is codling moth because of Taiwan’s “three-strikes” policy. If a live larva is found in U.S. apples exported to Taiwan on three occasions, the market is closed. But other pests and diseases of concern listed in the contract include San Jose scale, cherry fruit fly, obliquebanded and pandemis leafrollers, lacanobia fruit worm, pear psylla, and fireblight.

Four times during the year—at bloom, in July, at harvest, and after harvest—Kane assesses the pest and disease control. If pests are not managed to commercial thresholds, the owners have ten days to push out the trees and another ten days to burn or chip them. If necessary, the county hires someone to remove the trees, and the owner must reimburse the costs.

This is a part-time job—about a day and a half per month—for Kane, who works as a field horticulturist for Price Cold Storage in Yakima. Most people she contacts about unmanaged trees are good about taking care of the problem, she said. “Most of the problems we have are smaller blocks—less than ten acres—and they have just become a nuisance for the owner. Maybe the owner leased them to someone else and that person’s lost interest. Once they realize they’re creating a problem for their neighbors, I would say 80 percent have been really good about making arrangements to pull the trees out, or get on the spray program.”

Murray Michael, chair of the pest board, said the consent orders, which are binding documents, seem to be effective.

“Going to court is a lose-lose situation for everybody,” he said. “What we’re after is getting the problem solved, and this seems to be doing it. The tolerances any more for the quality of the fruit are such that it’s pretty tough to survive unless your fruit is pretty darned clean. So, it becomes really important for all of the neighbors to make sure they’re not contaminating somebody else’s orchard.”

Dan McCarthy, field representative for the Okanogan Horticultural Pest and Disease Control Board, said there are always some poorly farmed orchards when the economics in the fruit industry aren’t good and growers don’t have the money to put into controlling pests.

Growers who recognize they don’t have the ability to manage the orchard properly can sign it over to the pest board, and in most cases the board will take out the trees and put a lien on the property so it can recover the cost when the property is sold.

“This eliminates the whole process of having to go to court, because that serves no benefit to anybody,” McCarthy said.

Last year, the Okanogan Pest Board removed 38 acres of neglected orchard. The acreage of tree fruits in the county has dropped to about 24,000 acres, down from 30,000 a decade ago. At one time, it was the second-largest apple-growing county in the state, after Yakima, McCarthy said.

“We’re losing acreage in this county. I think we’re going through a downsizing, particularly those growers who are heavy to apples.”

But McCarthy said most of the remaining growers in the county are doing well on the whole with their codling moth control, using mating disruption and supplemental insecticides.