The Cost of Spotted Lanternfly; Ohio Beware

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We all know that invasive species are destructive and costly but calculating a dollar value on the threat can be a challenge. Ag research economists at Penn State set out to quantify the financial impact of spotted lanternfly (SLF) on the state’s economy and just released its findings.

Economists looked at SLF’s effects on key industries, including nursery and Christmas tree production, hardwoods, and vineyards, only in the southeast quadrant of the state. This is where SLF infestations are heavy. In that region alone, growers and landowners suffer an estimated $29 million in direct costs, plus and an additional $21 million in secondary costs such as reduced business and household spending. That’s a grand total of $50 million a year.

If SLF expands to infest the entire state, that $50 million is extrapolated to $325 million a year in damage, with an accompanying loss of approximately 2,800 jobs. The state’s forest products industry, valued at $19 billion, is considered most vulnerable, as Pennsylvania is the number one producer of hardwoods in the US. Nursery production value in Pennsylvania is estimated at $80.1 million, with over 900 operations.

“The part that we’re really concerned about is what’s going on out in the forest. This thing is feeding on trees and those trees are worth a lot of money,” said Jay Harper, a study co-author and director of Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center. “This is a call to arms,” he said.

Look Out, Ohio

In related news, SLF egg masses were found in western Pennsylvania within 15 miles of the Ohio border at a rail yard. The eggs were treated, and scouting will increase in 2020.

Much is at stake in Ohio, as many of the same industries as in Pennsylvania are important. Hardwoods may not be as robust, but nursery production in Ohio is estimated at $47.8 million, with over 400 operations. In addition, about 325 wineries exist and hops production is on the rise. These industries, as well, as fruit trees (Ohio ranks in the top ten states for apple production) and landscapes will all be at risk.

Spotted lanternfly could potentially have negative impacts on the forestry, apple, grape, peach, and hops industries and is known to infest a variety of plants important to the environmental horticulture industry. Over 70 host plants are known.

Human travel poses the greatest risk of spreading SLF.

Spotted lanternfly adults resemble a colorful moth with spotted wings about one inch in size, but this pest is a planthopper. Immatures are wingless and black with white spots that develop to red patches. Adults lay eggs on smooth surfaces, such as stone and patio furniture, and this pest has been known to lay eggs on a car’s undercarriage.

In 2019, the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) funded a project dedicated to exploring SLF effects to environmental horticulture, titled ‘Interactions between spotted lanternfly and woody ornamentals that influence tree health and insect fitness.’ The project is led by Dr. K. Hoover, Pennsylvania State University and is focused on movement of SLF in the landscape and host tree preference by life stage. Information learned will help environmental horticulture protect landscape and nursery investments. Dr. Hoover’s research is also part of a multiyear, collaborative project funded through USDA NIFA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Funding, advocating for research, and communicating best practices on emerging pests like SLF is precisely how HRI helps the environmental horticulture industry perform better, grow faster, and prepare for the future.

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