App helps people report crop pests to state agency

jholland@modbee.comMay 13, 2013 

Apple, the high-tech company, is helping to protect apples, the fruit, along with other crops around the state.

A new campaign urges residents to take photos of invasive insects and plants with their iPhones or iPads. They can then transmit the images to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which will determine whether they are a threat.

The Report a Pest app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store. An Android version is under development, according to the CDFA.

So the bug and weed fighters have one more tool for their long-running effort to protect farms, ranches, forests and waterways from pests.

Some of the work is low-tech, such as when inspectors simply look at nursery plants for insects. Some of it relies on dogs, whose ability to sniff out produce in mail shipments is as impressive as anything out of Silicon Valley.

The stakes are huge. The region's wine industry could suffer if the European grapevine moth took hold in vineyards. Valley citrus growers want no part of a diseased named huanglongbing that can turn their fruit green.

Up in Sierra Nevada foothills, yellow star thistle crowds out grasses that feed cattle. Down in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, water hyacinth has spread across waterways like shag carpeting in a 1970s rec room.

Pests can travel on firewood from Modesto to a Pinecrest campground, hitch a ride in a box of fruit mailed across the country, or arrive in the ballast water of freighters from Asia.

In spite of all the threats, California still produces a bounty, thanks to efforts by farmers, other land owners, and county, state and federal agencies.

The new app builds on the online pest reporting on the CDFA website. Owners of iPads and iPhones can use GPS coordinates that show the location of the find, allowing the department to respond quickly to emergencies.

The CDFA has tips for taking pest photos. It helps, for example, to place an insect next to a coin or other common object to give an idea of its size.

More information about the Report a Pest app is at www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant.

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