Jun. 25—WEST CHAZY — The Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy was on the gypsy-moth offensive this spring.
"We were kind of suspecting that this would be an issue this year," Laura Trudeau, operations manager, said.
"We happened to see a few trees that got totally defoliated in our area last year, just a few trees. Not much, maybe a couple of dozen. We weren't too worried about it, but we we were able to tell it was gypsy moth because they really defoliate like crazy. They leave nothing on the tree."
The gypsy moth phenomenon was unknown even among the Parker elders in their 80s.
"They are invasive," Trudeau said.
"They are from Europe, and they've been in the U.S. for quite some years, but they don't usually come this far north because of our cold temperatures."
Over the winter, Parker's personnel saw a lot of the insect's egg masses in the woods.
"Which lots of homeowners will recognize now," she said.
"They are a yellowish, cream colored splotch, and that's where they come out of. So when they hatched this spring just after maple season, we were seeing these little, tiny, tiny caterpillars, itty-bitties."
The maple producers contacted a spraying company resourced through Cornell Cooperative Extension of Clinton County.
"It was looking like it would be a bad infestation," Trudeau said.
"We were seeing a little bit of damage to the foliage beginning. Just tons of these little worms everywhere. Pretty widespread. They told us that the time to spray is early."
An organic spray was dropped on May 24 in accordance with guidelines from the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New York (NOFA-NY).
"It's a bacteria that naturally occurs in the environment but by spraying it in that fine mist it affects the caterpillars so that their bodies can't handle it," Trudeau said.
"They cease to eat, and then they die."
The maple producers sprayed about 500 acres of more than 1,000 acres total.
"We focused on the areas right around our home farm here in West Chazy where it seemed to be the worst," she said.
Since the maple producers never had this happen before, they weren't sure of the impact of defoliated trees on maple syrup production.
"From what we know from talking to foresters like the people at Cornell, it does impact the tree health," Trudeau said.
"It's kind of unknown. They say usually the trees come back, but there's also the stress this year of having a drought and hot temperatures. So, that's extra strain on the trees."
Forestry experts say the infestation will impact sap production and sap sugar going into next maple season.
"Because the way the trees work, it's in the summer, it's now when the trees are making that sugar with their leaves that they are going to store down in the roots over the winter," Trudeau said.
"And that's what comes up in the spring, and we're able to tap a little bit out of to make our syrup.
"So if they're not able to make that sugar in the summer, it follows that there wouldn't be much of anything probably to have in the spring."
Department of Environmental Conservation foresters recommend that maple producers do not tap trees the following spring after a gypsy moth defoliation incident.
"We cannot afford not to tap, obviously, it's our whole business as farms," Trudeau said.
"It's like telling a farmer they can't harvest their crops. It's crazy. That's why we sprayed for that reason."
The spraying companies, who travel great distances, like to cover 500 acres minimum per job.
But that leaves small maple producers out on a leafless limb.
"I had a guy come in from one of the local maple farms that was beside himself," she said.
"'I wish I could have done something. I didn't know.' He's only got 10 acres."
Last summer when Parker's defoliated trees leafed out again, the second leaf growth was smaller and shriveled in appearance.
"They definitely are probably not as good functioning as leaves as you would typically see," Trudeau said.
"What you read in literature and what the foresters say if a tree experiences that several years in a row, it will kill the tree. We've heard reports of areas in western Massachusetts and in Pennsylvania where whole forests have just died because of these gypsy moth caterpillars."
The insects voracious appetite spells their own doom.
"It's my understanding that they will just eat and eat and eat, until they have killed every tree in the area and then they die of starvation because they've killed their own food source," Trudeau said.
"Just over population. It's kind of a scary thing."
Farmers report their hay fields are also fodder for the insects.
"The farmers are growing hay for their cows and are a little concerned as well," she said.
"It does seem to be an atypical kind of infestation. Kind of extreme, but only in certain patches. It's definitely blown up since last year. We're certainly glad that we sprayed for sure. We didn't know going into it."
"We spent a lot of money ($50,000). We were kind of, oh boy this is kind of scary. We hope this is the right choice.
"In the end, it looks like it was. It's just unfortunate we couldn't get it to more folks that would have wanted it."
Trudeau's hope is that some agency like Cornell Cooperative Extension or Clinton County Soil & Water Conservation District could connect farms for collective spraying opportunities.
"If this guy has10 acres, and this one has a 100 acres, they can team up to share the costs," Trudeau said.
"I hope they can get some more information because folks in this area are definitely concerned."
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