The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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July 7, 2012

Japanese beetles make presence known

CLINTON — It’s not the blistering heat that bothers Wide River Winery owner Dorothy O’Brien.

It’s the nearly 300,000 Japanese beetles that also came with summer.

Since receiving three inches of rain 10 days ago, O’Brien has seen an influx of the beetles. While the heat is slightly concerning, the action of beetles feeding on the vine leaves is potentially harvest threatening.

“The short story is grapes love heat,” O’Brien said.

According to O’Brien, grapes will grow until temperatures reach 93 or 94 degrees.  Heat beyond this threshold don’t kill the plants, but they don’t experience a full growth.

Although the rain provided some relief for the 7-acre vineyard where O’Brien and her staff grow grapes for the dozen wines sold at the winery, O’Brien said with full leaves came a hoard of hungry Japanese beetles.

The beetles have attacked two types of vines in particular. The merlot and marquette vine leaves are riddled with bite marks, crispy and brown.  It’s a sharp contrast to the lush green leaves of the surrounding vines.

Because of this, O’Brien said, the harvest for the merlot and marquette grapes may be delayed beyond the late August through September harvest time.

While some leaf-eating is good because it exposes the grapes to the sun, leaves are essential for fruit to ripen.

O’Brien said she empties traps on the vineyard every few days. In the two times she’s collected from them this season, she’s found approximately 200,000 of the beetles.

According to Mike White, viticulture specialist with the Iowa State University extension office, the beetles arrived about four weeks earlier than usual this year and would be here no matter the temperature.

About 20 percent of the vineyards in Iowa are experiencing Japanese beetle infestations. White said Clinton is one of the hot spots for Japanese beetle activity.

“We’re going to have Japanese beetles until mid-August,” White said. “The heat and the beetles have no relation.”

 One solution to eliminate the six-legged foes is spraying insecticide, a solution O’Brien is not personally excited about.

“I have never sprayed insecticide and I’m on the edge of doing that,” O’Brien said.  “The beetles are nasty little creatures.”

Still, O’Brien said she is hopeful for the grapes, and the wines they will ultimately produce.

“We’re going to have — I think — a good crop this year. The dry weather at harvest time helps grapes to develop flavors, aromas and sugar. It also lowers the acid,”she explained.

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