JEFFERSON COUNTY, N.Y. -- Dani Baker says her allium plants first got infected a few years back, but this last year was the worst.
"I first noticed it in my garlic," the Cross Island Farms owner said. "I put my garlic in in October and it starts growing in April and the leek moth hit it before I even knew it. It completely devastated my crop."
She checked her leek plants. They were destroyed. She then checked her onions. The leek moth was there too, luckily, though, not far enough along to do much damage. She says the losses, though, do add up.
"My garlic was essentially unsalable," Baker said of the discounted sale she did make. "I sold it to someone who does value added and she could just take out the good cloves. Half of the cloves in every head were rotted from the leek moth getting inside."
Leek moths are still very new to the area. They are mainly found in the North Country because they came from Ontario. The worry now is they'll spread south and put a big dent into a $54 million a year industry.
"Once a field is infested, it spreads pretty rapidly," said Sue Gwise of Jefferson County's Cornell Cooperative Extension office. "If you're an organic grower, especially, there aren't a lot of good controls for it."
That's exactly what Baker is. So insecticides aren't really an option at her farm. Besides, they aren't totally effective because of the larva's ability to burrow inside a plant.
So Cornell and Baker decided to team up and do some testing.
Specialized woven row covers can keep them out and traps have been set to see how they travel and how many there are. The results have shocked Baker.
"My garlic crop is fabulous. There's no damage whatsoever," Baker said.
"We found a lot of good information as far as the life cycle of the insect goes because we didn't really know a lot about it," Gwise added.
Now the row covers aren't fool proof. They can blow off or if there's a small hole, Baker found another infestation on a row of leeks while we were there, but the overwhelming majority of her plants were clean. After last year, she says she'll take it.
Baker also tells us one of the Cornell researchers on her farm is also working on a new product that would attract and trap the male leek moths and help get rid of the species.