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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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