Ore. Christmas tress flock to Hawaii — pest concerns

By Oregon Department of Agriculture,

As the nation’s top producer of Christmas trees, Oregon wants to maintain its reputation for providing a clean and healthy product. With that in mind, officials with the Oregon Department of Agriculture will return to Hawaii next month for a second straight year to monitor shipments of Christmas trees for any pest and disease problems.

“Last year was a challenging year for Christmas tree growers shipping trees to Hawaii and for us as the certifying agency,” says Gary McAninch, manager of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Nursery and Christmas Tree programs. “We shipped about 250 containers of trees over there and 73 were found to have pests that Hawaii did not want. Those trees had to go through a cleaning process to get rid of the pests, which were primarily slugs.”

ODA’s decision to send people back to Hawaii this season was influenced by what happened in 2012.

“We got a first hand look at our Christmas trees shipped to Hawaii and it was a big wakeup call for us,” says McAninch. “Once again, in the next few weeks, we will help the Hawaii Department of Agriculture identify pests that are particular to Oregon. Some of the insects and organisms on those trees are not pests in Hawaii and they can be quickly identified on site, which will allow those trees to immediately go to market.”

McAninch will be the first ODA official dispatched to Hawaii as the initial shipment of trees arrives next weekend. ODA entomologists will follow up in subsequent weeks.

“We can help prevent unnecessary treatment or rejection of trees if we can show that an insect they might find is nothing to really worry about,” says ODA entomologist Jim LaBonte. “This is more than just identifying Oregon insect pests, it’s identifying whether they are a threat to Hawaii.”

ODA plays an essential role in making the export of Oregon Christmas trees possible. Inspectors check to make sure trees bound for other states and countries are as pest and disease-free as possible. Those inspectors will be facing a whirlwind of export activity in the next few weeks as growers seek an all-important piece of paper known as the phytosanitary certificate.

“The phytosanitary certificate is an Oregon grower’s passport to the international marketplace,” says Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association. “Without the ODA inspector, there would be no passport.”

Inspection takes place in the field before harvest and again just prior to shipment. Inspectors don’t look at every tree, but randomly walk through a representative part of the field looking for potential problems. They also check after growers use a mechanical shaker to rid trees of any pests that might be present right before those trees go into a container. The process has been largely successful in preventing problems. Failure at this end can mean trouble at the export destination and a financial headache for the grower or shipper.

In the case of Hawaii, an additional step has been added– the inspection by ODA, working with its Hawaii counterpart, to ensure trees that go to market are pest-free. That process has been important in protecting the integrity of ODA’s phytosanitary certification.

Being on site as the trees arrive allows for observation and quick action in the event there are pest issues with Oregon Christmas trees. Problems can be communicated back to local growers, who can take action and mitigate pest issues before any more trees are sent to Hawaii. That might include additional shaking of trees or different handling practices aimed at reducing or eliminating pests of concern. Last year’s experience led to the development of best management practices and a series of meetings with growers who send trees to Hawaii. ODA and Oregon State University Extension were very much involved.

“There have been some interesting research projects completed aimed at minimizing the chance that growers pick up and transport hitchhiking pests,” says McAninch. “We now have a better idea of what it means to mechanically shake a tree properly and how to handle a tree after it has been shaken. In the past, it’s been common practice for growers to put trees back on the ground after they’ve been shaken, which has just provided an avenue for pests to re-infest those trees.”

Christmas tree harvest and shipping is an extreme burst of activity when time and physical space are in short supply. Trees move fast from the field to the container and it has traditionally been convenient to temporarily lay trees back on the ground after the mechanical shaking. This year, growers are either putting trees on pallets or directly into shipping containers to avoid the re-infestation.

“I’m confident this will be a better year for those growers who ship to Hawaii,” says McAninch. “They are very engaged in the process and are using best management practices to minimize the chances of slugs and other pests being shipped to Hawaii along with their trees.”

Meanwhile, Oregon Christmas tree farms are in full swing with harvest and shipping activities heating to a boil by mid-November. ODA has already certified trees to various Pacific Rim countries and is now gearing up for Hawaii and Mexico, which is Oregon’s top export customer for Christmas trees.

Many of the importation requirements imposed by Hawaii are the same as those in other states and countries. For the more than 600 Christmas tree growers in Oregon, access to other states and countries is extremely important since Oregonians themselves can’t possibly buy roughly 6.5 million tree produced annually. Lessons learned in Hawaii may come in handy for all growers who export Oregon Christmas trees. After all, eliminating pests in general helps maintain the good reputation earned and enjoyed wherever Oregon Christmas trees go– which is around the world.

For more information, contact Gary McAninch at (503) 986-4644.

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