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$700,000 sought to fight wine pest

An insect that carries a deadly plant disease has been found in Sierra Vista in southeastern Arizona, prompting the state Department of Agriculture to request emergency funds for an eradication effort.

The glassy winged sharpshooter is considered a threat to the region’s fledgling wine industry’s grapevines and to oleanders and other landscaping ornamentals, nut orchards and, if it spreads elsewhere in the state, stands of citrus trees, officials said.

The insect, a half-inch leafhopper, is a problem because its saliva infects plants with Pierce’s disease, an infection for which there is no cure.

The disease devastated California vineyards in the late 1990s.

Treatment efforts were conducted last fall in the Sierra Vista area after the sharpshooter was found at a nursery. However, the insect burrows during the winter months, department spokeswoman Katie Decker said.

“Then you find out in the spring whether you really killed the little sucker. Apparently we didn’t,” she said. “Is this a problem? Yes it is.”

Decker said the department, nearly halfway through its two-year budget cycle, is seeking a supplemental appropriation of $700,000 to pay for treatment that would involve hiring commercial firms with long wands and other equipment.

“This isn’t just backpack sprayers,” she said.

Without eradication, “you’re looking at dead citrus, you’re looking at dead oleanders and there’s nothing that can be done about it,” Decker said.

Rod Keeling, president of the Arizona Winegrowers Association, said the industry group supports the department’s request.

The current infestation is about 30 miles from vineyards in the Sonoita and Elgin areas of eastern Santa Cruz County, he said.

“They can fly a mile a day,” Keeling said.

Arizona has 22 licensed wineries and 30 vineyards, said Keeling, who with his wife owns a red wine vineyard in Cochise County.

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