New Rules would Further Protect Region from Apple Maggot

Wenatchee World by Christine Pratt
April 7, 2015

OLYMPIA — New rules should be in place by early May that would further reduce the chance that the fruit-boring apple maggot could find its way into Central Washington via an unexpected route — in the trucks of organic waste that Seattle sends to composting companies in Eastern Washington, including Grant County

Apple maggot has never been found in commercially packed fruit anywhere in the state, according to the state Department of Agriculture website. Officials want to keep it that way.

“Our first priority and legislative mandate is to protect the apple industry,” Jim Marra, manager of Agriculture’s pest program, said Thursday. “We will do that. The composters understand the importance of the apple industry to the state.”

New rules would further refine how the organic waste is transported and stored before the Eastern Washington companies transform it into compost and sell it to area farmers to improve their soils, Marra said.

Agriculture is developing the rules together with representatives of the fruit industry, composters, counties and state agencies that include the Department of Ecology.

Marra expects the new rules to take effect before the maggot emerges from its “pupal” or transformational stage in the soil in June. In the pupal stage, it can survive in the soil for several years.

Most of Eastern Washington is free of apple maggot, a pest that bores into the fruit, turning it brown and mushy. The region’s pest-free status is a big advantage for fruit companies here, which face no restrictions on selling their fruit to foreign markets.

The maggot is present in Spokane and in most of Western Washington. A quarantine has been imposed on those areas and restrictions applied to prevent the maggot from spreading.

Transport of organic waste from the quarantine areas into the pest-free areas is possible only with a special permit, Marra said.

Existing transport requirements already reduce the chances that these shipments of organic waste would actually bring the maggot into the pest-free areas, Marra said.

But concerns arose last summer, after a Quincy composter, Ovenell Farms, Inc. in partnership with PacifiClean Environmental, announced it had signed a contract to receive large quantities of organic waste from the city of Seattle.

The company is currently receiving about six freight containers of Seattle’s organic waste per day, a Seattle Utilities official said Monday.

City residents have for years been required to place their yard waste in a separate trash bin. Starting in January, they’ve also been required to place food waste in the same bin for recycling, he said.

Royal Organic Products of Royal City also accepts organic waste from quarantine areas, but puts it through a grinder before it leaves the quarantine areas. The grinding process reduces the chance the waste contains live pests, Marra said.

Barr-Tech LLC, outside of Spokane, and Natural Selection Farms, outside of Yakima, also accepts such organic waste. Marra said the risk that it could contaminate area orchards is considered low.

In the Wenatchee area, fruit giant Stemilt Growers has a compost center, but uses organic waste produced only from within the state’s pest-free area, Marra said.

“We believe the process of composting – and there are studies that show this – kills the apple maggot,” Ryan Leong, general manager of PacifiClean, said. “Composting is one of the best ways to control invasive pests.”

As organic waste and soil are heaped in a mound and turned regularly, microorganisms present in the material generate heat. Temperatures within the mound increase to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to kill bacterias and pests, Leong said.

PacifiClean doesn’t grind the Seattle waste until it reaches the company’s Quincy composter, Marra said, raising concerns that the maggot could survive in the waste while it’s being stored there before composting begins.

“We’re working with them on those concerns,” Leong said. “We’re trying to identify risks and proper mitigations.”

The trucks carrying the organic waste are covered, Leong said, and meet state requirements.

“We’re in the region,” he said. “We’re creating compost to sell to farmers in the region. We want to make sure we’re not doing anything to their detriment.”

In February, Agriculture issued an emergency rule-making order to speed the approval process.

The state’s Apple Maggot Control Program was created in 1980. Between 5,000 and 8,500 apple maggot traps are placed around the state annually. Marra said the half-million-dollar program is funded by apple growers.

Counties may be quarantined based on the trap catches or other evidence of maggot activity.

Most of this activity comes not in commercial orchards, but from backyard apple trees, Marra said.

Agriculture works with local pest boards to encourage the owner of the tree to cut it down or apply pesticides to kill the maggot — a challenge, considering it can live in the soil in its pupal stage for several years.

Changes in municipal waste-handling practices now require residents of many metro areas to put their yard clippings and other organic waste in separate bins.

Cities and counties are running out of room to store this organic waste, Marra said. Composting, he added, has been a good solution to these problems.