Battle against fruit fly won, but the war against pests goes on

State workers set hundreds of traps like these in parts of Miami-Dade County in a successful battle to eradicate the Oriental Fruit Fly.
State workers set hundreds of traps like these in parts of Miami-Dade County in a successful battle to eradicate the Oriental Fruit Fly.

When one of the most destructive pests to agriculture, the Oriental Fruit Fly, showed up in Miami-Dade County, the community stepped up to the plate to help eradicate this pest. From Mayor Carlos Gimenez to the fruit stand owners along Krome Avenue, everyone affected by this threat rolled up their sleeves and pitched in to defend not only Miami-Dade’s $1.6 billion agriculture industry, but also Florida’s more than $120 billion agriculture industry.

Together, we have successfully eradicated this invasive pest, and the community is largely to thank. Unfortunately, battling invasive pests has become all too common in Florida with our numerous ports and robust trade industry, and we must address the root cause.

From the Redbay Ambrosia Beetle, which is devastating Miami-Dade County’s avocado industry, to the most recent infestation of the Oriental Fruit Fly, which feeds on more than 430 commodities, non-native pests have assailed agriculture in Miami-Dade County — and the rest of the state — for years.

Every pest that has entered Florida and caused costly damage, which has occasionally been irreparable, is linked to a failure to recognize the dire consequences these pests pose to farmers, the environment and the economy.

The Oriental Fruit Fly infestation in Miami-Dade County is the latest in a succession of invasive pests in the state.

It came during peak season when snapbeans, dragon fruit and mamey are typically harvested in great quantities.

When I met with growers and other industry members in September, they shared their concerns about whether they would be able to move their products from the field to the marketplace.

With a quarantine area in the Redlands that was three times the size of Manhattan, growers faced tough choices on when and where to plant their crops.

While burdensome, more than 1,800 members of the Miami-Dade County agriculture industry treated their crops, either pre- or post-harvest, in order to move them into the marketplace without the risk of spreading the Oriental Fruit Fly. If left unchecked, the fruit fly would have wreaked havoc on Florida’s entire agriculture industry and the 2 million jobs it supports.

While the number of people who made this eradication effort a success is too many to name, I thank the agriculture industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mayor Gimenez and the Miami-Dade County Commission, Miami-Dade’s legislative and congressional delegations, the Dade County Farm Bureau, the University of Florida IFAS and the countless others who were instrumental in responding to this agricultural emergency.

Miami-Dade County rose to the challenge of fighting the Oriental Fruit Fly, and I am humbled and grateful to have worked alongside such dedicated people. However, responding to invasive pests is not something we want to get used to.

We cannot allow lax oversight at ports and airports to damage — and in some cases decimate — Florida agriculture. Miami-Dade County farmers used to grow Key limes; let’s not lose any more of our precious crops to invasive pests and disease.

Adam H. Putnam is Florida’s commissioner of agriculture.