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Posts Tagged ‘commissioners’

Originally I didn’t plan on this blog being political, but it looks like I’ll have to dip a toe in those waters… By now you’ve already heard about the new proposed county budget that Mayor Carlos Alvarez presented to the county commissioners. There was much debate about what to cut, how much to cut, and what to save — and it’s not over yet.

One of the worst proposed cuts is to the county Extension Service. The new budget slashes almost all their funding. Extension staffers are in a tizzy working on their revised budget to present to the mayor in hopes of staying alive.

So what is this service and why should you care?

Extension helps homeowners, gardeners and growers with training and information they need to learn many things like water conservation, better landscaping techniques, raise better plants and animals, solve bug and disease problems, train Master Gardeners and so on. Their programs have value to the public way beyond their direct benefit, in a provider-to-provider kind of way. Without Extension, for example, Farmer Margie wouldn’t be a farmer — she’d still be in IT.

Right now, Extension is very involved with UF/IFAS in getting the word out about laurel wilt, the insect-borne disease that has been killing avocado trees in the state. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know they held a meeting not too long ago, alerting growers to the threat, and providing preliminary information on how to handle it. Without Extension and UF, there wouldn’t be much hope for saving a multi-million dollar industry by beating this disease.

Extension is a Cooperative program that’s funded both by the county and UF, which contributes matching funds to whatever is budgeted by the county. It’s double-the-value for the money. Extension has been around for decades helping generations of growers and gardeners. I remember my dad Carl, who raised tomatoes and other vegetables in the 40’s and 50’s, said Extension taught him what grew best here when moved from Wisconsin.

So what can you do to help?

Speak up! Let the county commissioners know there’s an active community of gardeners and locavores who care about what happens to Extension and the support it gives local growers. Love Farmer Margie’s giant Donnie avocados? Tell the commissioners about them, and how she hopes to still grow them next year.

Write to the commissioners. You can start with your district, but why stop at one? Write letters to all of them! Call their offices and leave messages, and send emails. Set up a meeting with a commissioner and/or their aides. Bring your friends to the meeting.

Attend a community budget meeting. Here’s the link to the dates and locations. There are many scheduled all over the county from August 11 through 20. Go and speak up on behalf of Extension. It was suggested that if you go, wear green in a show of support.

Commissioners are also holding their own meetings in August to get the public’s input.

Go to a commission meeting and ask to speak. The first budget hearing is on Sept 3rd, and the next is on the 15th. You still have a couple of weeks to persuade your commissioner.

By helping your local farmers and growers, you help yourself and other locavores. Go for it!

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Florida avocados

Florida avocados

Take a good look at this season’s avocados, and savor the flavor. This season might be the last time you’ll see and taste Florida avocados, if the laurel wilt disease gets out of control in Miami-Dade County. It’s caused by the tiny redbay ambrosia beetle that carries a fungus which kills avocado trees fairly quickly. In Brevard County, where there are mostly neighborhood avocado trees, UF/IFAS researchers spotted the disease in October 2008, and by May 2009 the same trees were dead.

Last week the rumors were flying among growers that laurel wilt was spotted in a Miami-Dade grove. This Wednesday night it was confirmed by UF/IFAS scientists at an emergency meeting held at the Miami-Dade County Extension Service office. Over 120 concerned avocado growers packed into the meeting room to hear the grim news. This tiny beetle presents an enormous threat to their livelihood.

One tree suspected of laurel wilt came back positive for the disease using DNA testing, and four additional samples had been taken from three other groves for testing. This is the first time the fungus has been spotted in a commercial grove in Miami-Dade County, and it could severely harm a $12.7 million industry.

There are 892 growers and 6773 acres of avocado groves in the county, according to the USDA’s 2007 survey. If the disease cuts Florida’s commercial avocado crop in half, which could happen, it could cost the state $27 million in total economic impact and enough lost worker hours to equal 275 full-time jobs, according to UF/IFAS.

Plant inspectors and insect trappers from the Florida Dept. of Agriculture are surveying the ag production area from Goulds south — 140 commercial groves numbering 7000 acres, according to their calculations. They’re also setting sentinel traps to track the beetle, similar to what’s being done with fruit flies. Their survey should be 70-80 percent complete by this Friday Aug. 7. At the time of the meeting, they have not yet found signs of the beetle or laurel wilt.

If you’re a homeowner and you have an avocado tree in your yard, check it often for signs of beetle infestation or laurel wilt. If you see anything suspicious, call the Division of Plant Industry at 305-252-4360 or 888-397-1517 and an inspector will come take a sample for DNA testing. If the sample comes back positive, you’ll be instructed on how to treat or properly dispose of your tree. Do NOT cut it down and throw it on the street for pickup, because that could help spread the beetle and its fungal infection to other trees in the neighborhood.

State representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart were instrumental in pushing the USDA to give UF a $1.9 million grant to find a way to mitigate and manage laurel wilt. Other local politicians who are actively involved are County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and County Commissioner Katy Sorensen.

On the other hand, Mayor Carlos Alvarez recently drafted a new county budget that slashed Extension office funding to almost zero. The office also relies on matching funds from UF/IFAS to educate and support growers and homeowners about plant diseases and various agricultural issues. This drastic cut couldn’t come at a worse time. County commissioners are meeting on Sept. 3 and 17 (after their August vacation) to vote on the new budget. Please take the time to call or email your county commissioner and tell them not to cut funds for Extension and local growers! For locavores, doing that’s a no-brainer, right??

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez http://www.miamidade.gov/mayor/
Miami-Dade County Commissioners http://www.miamidade.gov/commiss/
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen http://ros-lehtinen.house.gov/
Representative Mario Diaz-Balart http://mariodiazbalart.house.gov/index.html

More info on redbay ambrosia beetle
http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/enpp/ento/x.glabratus.html

More info on laurel wilt
http://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/RAB-LW/
http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/enpp/pathology/laurel_wilt_disease.html

Miami-Dade County Extension Service http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu
Miami-Dade DERM http://www.miamidade.gov/derm/
UF/IFAS Tropical Research & Education Center http://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/
Fla. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services http://www.doacs.state.fl.us

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