Florida avocado industry fights devastating disease

05/31/2013 11:34:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Florida avocado grower-shippers are keeping an eye on a disease that could destroy their industry.

The tiny redbay ambrosia beetle, which spreads the laurel wilt fungus that destroys avocado trees, has been spotted on the northern end of the South Florida production area.

Money supporting research being conducted by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences originates from specialty crop grants in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farm bill, said Alan Flinn, administrator of the Florida Avocado Administrative Committee.

Last season, the committee financially supported removal of infected trees, he said.

“We are searching hard for a remedy to this problem,” Flinn said. “We are hoping to eradicate it as soon as we can. We are optimistic, and we think we will get a handle on this.”

Alvaro Perpuly, general manager and partner at Fresh King Inc., said the industry is doing as much as it can to control the disease and to try to survive.

“Through the research, we’ve made some progress in the knowledge of this beetle, but it’s not definitive to stop it yet,” Perpuly said. “We don’t have anything scientifically proven to be able to stop it. We lose trees every day, but we’re still working on it.”

 

Ongoing concern

Jessie Capote, executive vice president and co-owner of J&C Tropicals, Miami, said he attended a committee meeting on the subject on May 21.

He said the committee is soliciting for increased university research support.

“There continues to be a need for more funding to find other ways to combat the virus. Right now, all they’re doing is cutting down trees. They certainly know more than they did a few years ago, but I don’t think we’re at the point to where it’s stabilizing,” Capote said.

Bill Brindle, vice president of sales management for Brooks Tropicals Inc., said the disease remains an ongoing industry concern.

“Fortunately, to this point, we have been able to contain the spread of the laurel wilt,” he said. “It’s something we’re managing. It’s an issue that this industry can deal with. For the most part, we will be able to control it.

“We can’t prevent it very effectively, but we can keep it under control and have a vibrant industry even though this disease is present.”

Neal Palmer “Pal” Brooks, owner, as well as other Brooks personnel, serve on subcommittees that deal with the issue.


Documented spread

Charlie Caves, plant manager of New Limeco LLC, Princeton, said the Florida Avocado Administrative Committee is sponsoring aerial surveys that show the disease continuing to spread.

He said growers continue to apply different sprays.

Caves said grove scouting remains key.

If any tree is suspect, samples are taken, sent to the University of Florida for testing. If a tree tests positive, growers immediately destroy it to prevent jeopardizing other trees, he said.

“We are taking it seriously and are doing whatever we can to take action on it and prevent it from spreading,” Caves said. “It’s still sporadic, and we’ve had it like everyone else ... If people don’t do something about affected trees, it can spread. It hasn’t reached the point of citrus greening, though.”



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