The massive and productive Florida Miami-Dade County agricultural (fruit and produce) zone has been shut down due to a small fly.
The creature, known as the Oriental fruit fly, is capable of feeding and laying eggs upon 400 different types of fruit crops. It was first spotted in Miami weeks ago and has since spread to Redland, a community in Miami-Dade that is home to many fruit growers raising crops such as papaya, tomatoes and dragon fruit.
The finding led Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam, to declare a quarantinearound 85 square miles of land in the region, an area larger than Manhattan and the Bronx combined. At this time, most crops cannot leave the area; much of the fruit will soon go to waste. Some crops can be shipped after being irradiated, but that is an expensive process.
The quarantine went into effect two weeks ago, just as farmers were preparing to harvest a variety of fruit crops, according to NPR.
Salvador Fernandez, a grower and distributor in the heart of Redland, told NPR that the quarantine will force him to leave potentially about 20 million pounds of dragon fruit on the trees, along with another 500,000 pounds of a fruit called mamey.
Putnam explains that after feeding on many types of fruit, this fly “pierces it, lays its eggs and causes obviously a very unpleasant condition in that fruit when those eggs are laid in there.”
The state is not planning to aerially spray insecticides, according to The Miami Herald. However, officials are seeking permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use the pesticide malathion for hand-spraying crops before harvest, the paper reports. Malathion has been used in the past to combat invasions of other species of fruit flies in California and elsewhere.
Scientists have detected a total count of 159 flies in the outbreak. If the numbers begin to increase, they may consider an aerial spraying campaign, according to Putnam. But officials hope that the quarantine will take care of the problem, and if fly levels drop off, the quarantine is set to expire January 18.
But many growers expect to lose their jobs, and farmers are unsatisfied with the state’s response, with many urging use of the aerial spray, a chemical called GF-120, which is approved for organic farming. Malathion, on the other hand, cannot be used on organic farms, and if it is, growers would lose their “organic” certification for three years, the Herald notes.
Fernandez told NPR that if authorities cannot eradicate the fly soon, “there will be serious consequences for an industry in Miami-Dade County valued at $700 million.”
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