State to begin aerial spraying in Miami-Dade to combat fruit flies

The state will begin aerial spraying in Miami-Dade County to combat the largest infestation of Oriental fruit fly ever recorded in Florida.
The state will begin aerial spraying in Miami-Dade County to combat the largest infestation of Oriental fruit fly ever recorded in Florida. University of Florida

The state of Florida plans to begin aerial spraying to combat a growing infestation of an aggressive Asian fruit fly in southern Miami-Dade County.

Beginning Friday, state officials plan to spray Spinosad, a common insecticide used in gardening and approved for organic farming. The state had hoped to control the outbreak of Oriental fruit flies, the largest ever recorded in Florida, by trapping male flies. But with the number of captured flies climbing to 161 and a quarantine zone expanding to 97 square miles, officials decided to deploy their strongest weapon.

“I am committed to using every weapon in the arsenal to protect agriculture in Miami-Dade County,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement that was careful to point out that Spinosad is also used in pet applications.

Spraying will target an area between Southwest 136th Street and 224th Street and bounded on the east and west by Southwest 157th Avenue and Southwest 217th Avenue, where at least 6 tons of infected fruit have already been bagged and destroyed.

The flies first turned up in an almond tree in Kendall in August. Within two weeks, traps nabbed dozens of flies in the Redland, a farming region known for local avocados as well as more exotic fruit like dragon fruit and papayas. Earlier this month, Putnam declared a state of emergency for the region, allowing him to tap into more state resources to enforce the quarantine zone.

While the infestation is concentrated in the Redland, farmers fear the flies, which can infest 430 different fruits and vegetables — about 90 percent of the crops grown in Miami-Dade County — could spread south to fertile fields near Homestead and Florida City.

In a meeting earlier this month, farmers worried that if the state waited too long to spray, the flies could spread. But organic farmers and beekeepers worried about damage caused by spraying. State officials say the insecticide chosen is a natural extract from a soil microbe and safe. Spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said the department had also consulted with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to ensure that butterflies, including two recently added to the endangered species list, are not harmed.

In advance of the spraying, state officials are trying to warn beekeepers, fish farmers and others who may be vulnerable to spraying. For more information on the spraying, visit the state’s website at www.freshfromflorida.com.

Related stories from Miami Herald