Can Avocados Be Saved from Deadly Laurel Wilt Disease?

UF/IFAS scientists Edward Evans and Jonathan Crane study diseased avocados in a South Florida grove.
Edward Evans (left), a UF/IFAS food and resource economics Associate Professor, and Tropical Fruit Expert Jonathan Crane examine avocados in a research grove at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

If you love guacamole and/or any other avocado-infused delicacies, trying times may be afoot. So far, roughly 40,000 commercial avocado trees in Florida — the nation’s second-leading producer of the fruit — have been taken out by laurel wilt, a deadly fungal pathogen spread primarily by a complex of beetles.

For several years now, University of Florida experts have had up-close experience dealing with the malady and are exploring ways to prevent it from spreading. Now, they’re taking their data to California — the nation’s top producer of avocados — to engage scientists, growers, and regulators there.

In particular, faculty from the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead paid a visit to the Golden State to speak at a series of seminars on laurel wilt. “The information we will provide may help their scientists, regulatory agencies, and producers prepare for the potential introduction of laurel wilt into California,” stated Jonathan Crane, a UF/IFAS Professor of horticultural sciences and Tropical Fruit Extension Specialist. “Specifically, we are providing the California industry with recommendations: scouting to detect trees symptomatic for laurel wilt and then implementing sanitation procedures without delay. This is the most reliable way to prevent the spread of the pathogen through root grafts among trees and eliminates the ambrosia beetle vector breeding sites.”

Other measures such as prophylactic systemic fungicide treatments work but must be applied before infection with the pathogen. Limited applications of trunk and major limb contact insecticides help to reduce beetle vector populations, according to Crane.

To put production numbers in perspective, California grows about 90% of the avocados in the U.S. Anything that can be done to prevent a major threat like laurel wilt from encroaching is key.

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