A quarantine has been placed on 85 square miles of farmland in Miami-Dade County after an infestation of Oriental fruit flies has continued to spread. The Washington Post reported Sept. 23 that, since August,159 of the potentially devastating pests have been identified. The infestation has led the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam to declare a state of agricultural emergency.
The Oriental fruit fly is considered one of the most serious fruit fly pests due to its potential for economic damage. The pesky creature is not picky about where it lays its eggs. It can target any one of some 430 different fruits. For Florida’s year-round fruit farmers, that’s bad news. If the flies lay their eggs in bananas, mangos, mamey, dragon fruit and avocados, the hungry larvae can devastate harvests. Putnam outlined the seriousness of the situation in a statement earlier this month.
“The Oriental Fruit Fly is one of the world’s most destructive pests and poses a significant threat to Florida’s $123 billion agriculture industry and the two million jobs it supports,” Putnam said. “Miami-Dade County’s agriculture industry is a $1.6 billion industry, and we will use every weapon in our arsenal that’s necessary to eradicate this pest and protect Florida agriculture and our economy,”
Many farmers in Redland, known for its fertile red clay soil, are already feeling the economic pinch. NPR visited J&C Tropicals and spoke with Salvador Fernandez, operations manager
of the company which has been severely affected by the quarantine. The fruit flies were detected just as many tropical fruits were ready for harvest.
“We estimated that we have mamey alone about 500,000 pounds left on the trees,” Fernandez said. “[As for] dragon fruit, that leaves 20 million pounds on the trees potentially.”
Thousands of pounds of fruit that would have been headed to markets around the world, have instead been bagged and destroyed. To combat further losses, officials are considering any tool in their arsenal to eradicate the pests. While this is the worst fruit fly infestation that Florida has faced, it’s not the first. According to The Miami Herald Putnam told a crowd of some 100 growers that an insecticide called GF-120, which has been approved for organic farming, may be sprayed aerially if the pests continue to appear. Some questioned why such measures haven’t already been taken.
Many growers don’t have the financial means to weather the quarantine which is scheduled at least until January. While it may be forthcoming, officials have said there is currently no economic support in place for farmers affected by the infestation. Fernandez of J&C Tropicals said that he has even been contacted by growers looking to sell their farms.
“There’s a lot of growers that will go bankrupt,” Fernandez said. “There’s a lot of people, they just don’t have the cash flow to sustain these kind of losses.”