The War Against Pests Never Rests

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Adam Putnam 2012 head shot for FLG

Florida agriculture is known for producing the freshest, highest-quality produce in the world. As a peninsula with multiple points of entry, Florida is extremely susceptible to the introduction of pests and disease from other states and countries. Our warm subtropical climate is a welcome environment to pests and diseases. And without a harsh winter, there’s no natural threat in Florida to these pests.

We discover an average of 12 new pests or disease in Florida every year, some of which could have a devastating impact on Florida commodities. This year, my department’s Division of Plant Industry has pursued multiple serious pests including the giant African land snail, the redbay ambrosia beetle, and the Mediterranean fruit fly. As we approach the close of 2012, we already are looking at what pests pose the most serious threats in the coming year.

A Giant Problem

Since its rediscovery on Sept. 8, 2011, search teams have found more than 88,417 giant African land snails (GALS) in Miami-Dade County. GALS are one of the largest and the most dangerous snails in the world, known to consume more than 500 different plants and in rare cases carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans. Outreach to the public was a critical first step in the eradication program. Residents were directed to look for it and report it. And so far, that is exactly what they have been doing. More than 85% of the new positive areas have been identified through calls to our office.

Save The Guac

In April, we confirmed the presence of laurel wilt disease on several avocado trees in the northern tier of the Miami-Dade County avocado production area. Laurel wilt is a destructive disease transmitted by the redbay ambrosia beetle into a number of tree species in the laurel family. While this pest/disease complex threatens the health of avocado trees, it does not affect the quality or wholesomeness of avocado fruit, which remains an excellent Fresh from Florida product. State and federal agriculture officials continue to work closely with the avocado industry to fight this disease, and considerable research is under way to develop disease management solutions.

Flies In The Ointment

Fruit flies are one of the most potentially destructive agricultural pests in the world. Most of Florida’s crops, including citrus, fall within its wide host range. This makes it imperative to act quickly and decisively when any species of fruit fly is found. Currently, more than 56,000 fruit fly traps are monitored throughout Florida by state and federal inspectors. When an exotic fruit fly is detected in a trap, survey teams are immediately mobilized to determine if more flies are in the area and begin a treatment program if necessary. Florida’s fruit fly detection and monitoring program, along with the Sterile Fruit Fly Release Program, have been extremely effective in mitigating fruit fly threats.

On The Lookout

In looking ahead to the coming year, the red palm weevil is a potential threat to watch out for. It attacks many palm species, but is especially devastating on date palms. It recently became established in Curaçao in the Caribbean, placing it even closer to Florida.
Only with the help of research and quick intervention do we have a chance to fight the threat of pests and disease. Research can help us determine behavioral patterns and develop disease-resistant breeds, while quickly attacking identified pests preserves
our industry.

Adam H. Putnam is the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

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