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Constant monitoring keeps orchard pests in check

Constant monitoring keeps orchard pests in check

Jerry May, a crop consultant with Central Point-based Grange Co-op, roves Rogue Valley orchards on the lookout for fruit-damaging bugs.

Traps he tucks deep into well-tended orchards catch few coddling moths, whose wormy larval stage ravages apples, pears and other fruit, but traps next to abandoned orchards catch swarms of moths, he said.

Pesticides to control such pests are expensive, so growers with a sharp eye on the bottom line want to avoid their heavy use, said May, who also tends 52 acres of his own fruit trees. Besides, the fruit-buying public increasingly claims to favor produce grown in an environmentally friendly way with less chemicals, he adds.

To stop trouble from spreading from neglected orchards, the Fruit Growers League is prepared to step up enforcement of a pest-control ordinance Jackson County adopted in 2002 at the league's urging.

We want to send a message about why we need people to care for their trees, said Executive Director Bill Eckart.

— The ordinance requires owners of 50 or more trees to care for them or remove them so they don't become breeding grounds for pests and disease that then sweep into commercial orchards.

Under the ordinance, Phil Van Buskirk, superintendent at the Oregon State University Extension Service research center on Hanley Road, is the first line of defense against problems with abandoned or unkempt trees.

When he hears about problem orchards, he contacts the owners and advises them of possible solutions. Options range from removing the trees, which costs about &

36;275 an acre, to establishing a pest-control plan using organic means or chemical sprays. A spray program usually costs between &

36;400 and &

36;1,000 per acre, he said.

Van Buskirk returns later to see if the owner has acted. If nothing has happened, he can turn the case over to county code enforcement officers, who have the ability to issue citations and fines. Ultimately, the county can clean up the problem and place a lien against the property to pay for the work.

That's the big hammer, said Lin Bernhardt, Jackson County natural resources coordinator who drafted the ordinance.

The hammer has not been used so far. The county has issued only one warning since adopting the ordinance and that brought prompt compliance, said Mike Kuntz, code enforcement manager.

Last year, growers identified eight neglected orchards causing problems, Van Buskirk said. About half the owners have fixed the problem, but more trouble springs up as blighted property is sold to new owners, additional orchards are abandoned or sprouts pop up in areas where trees were cleared away, he said.

Orchardists with the Fruit Growers League who had problems linked to nearby neglected trees declined to talk publicly about the struggle. Most said they were continuing to work with neighbors.

Reach reporter Anita Burkeat 776-4485, or e-mail .