Op-Ed

Infestation threatens jobs, economy

Carambolas are among the many fruits that have been quarantined in Miami-Dade County due to an Oriental fruit fly outbreak.
Carambolas are among the many fruits that have been quarantined in Miami-Dade County due to an Oriental fruit fly outbreak. AP

An extremely devastating pest to agriculture, the Oriental fruit fly, has descended upon Miami-Dade County. When I recently visited to meet with growers and community leaders, the anxiety about the unknown and the 98-square-mile quarantine, which is more than three times the size of Manhattan, was palpable.

The concern over this infestation is not limited to those within Miami-Dade’s $1.6-billion agriculture industry and the 11,000 jobs it supports; it extends to consumers who may see prices rise or have difficulty obtaining some of South Florida’s most desired and exotic tropical fruits, such as dragon fruit and mamey. It also affects related businesses, such as banks, trucking and harvesting.

We are proud of the diversity and uniqueness of the exotic fruits and plants that growers in Miami-Dade County produce for consumers around the globe to enjoy. Unfortunately, the Oriental fruit fly eats and lays eggs in nearly everything that grows in Miami-Dade County, including: avocado, mango, mamey, loquat, lychee, longan, dragon fruit, guava, papaya, sapodilla, banana, annona, and more.

The roughly 160 Oriental fruit flies that have triggered the quarantine and eradication efforts led by my department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have left growers with serious questions, including whether they should plant their winter crops and what the fate of the crops that are already in the ground will ultimately be.

We have been aggressively working to eradicate the Oriental fruit fly in order to protect not only Miami-Dade’s agriculture industry, but also the entire state’s industry.

For example, 57 percent of Florida’s total snapbean acreage is in Miami-Dade County. Production costs are around $4,000 per acre. These snapbeans are timed to be ready for the Thanksgiving table — as of now, the quarantine extends to February. Imagine the effects of a quarantine at the mall . . . on Black Friday.

While the seriousness of this infestation cannot be overstated, we have been aggressively working to eradicate the Oriental fruit fly in order to protect not only Miami-Dade’s agriculture industry, but also the entire state’s industry.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we established a quarantine zone to limit the movement of products that could be infested with the pest, and we apply treatments to areas where Oriental fruit flies have been detected. We are working with growers, harvesters, packing houses, fruit dealers, transporters and nurseries in the quarantine zone, among others, to prevent infestations of the fly on their groves and farms, and eventually enable them to move product that is proven to be safe and free of the Oriental fruit fly. We have also applied bait and additional traps throughout the quarantine zone to attract and eliminate male flies.

Agriculture in Miami-Dade County was founded by pioneers who passed their knowledge and love of the land through generations and is steeped in history. Meeting with Medora Krome and thinking of her family’s contribution to South Florida was a poignant reminder that the Oriental fruit fly — and laurel wilt — threaten more than just her avocados. They threaten the legacy her family has worked for generations to carry on.

We appreciate the community and industry’s support. Federal, state and local leaders have also supported our eradication efforts. We recently announced that we will conduct aerial spraying of a product that is approved for use by organic growers as early as Friday evening, weather permitting. I am committed to doing everything we can to protect agriculture in Miami-Dade, as well as the entire state, and the aerial spraying is one more measure we can take to eradicate the Oriental fruit fly.

We understand that in addition to people’s livelihoods being at stake, generations of tradition and a way of life are threatened by this fruit fly. We are committed to employing every weapon in the arsenal to fight this pest.

Adam H. Putnam is Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture.

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