UF/IFAS officials credit teamwork for victory over invasive Oriental fruit fly; end of quarantine means return to business as usual for Miami-Dade County growers

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Female Oriental fruit fly. Click on image for high-res version. Cutline at bottom.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The lifting of an agricultural quarantine in Miami-Dade County on Feb. 13 signaled victory over the invasive Oriental fruit fly and a return to business as usual for growers within a 99 square-mile area that includes vegetable farms, nurseries, packing houses, residential neighborhoods and much of the state’s commercial tropical fruit acreage.

Officials with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences credit the success story to determination and teamwork by a partnership of growers, landscapers, homeowners, government officials and agency personnel, and UF/IFAS Extension faculty.

“Our personnel played a vital role in bringing the quarantine to a quick ending, by facilitating clear communication between producers and agency personnel,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “The good guys won, and we’re proud that we helped make it happen.”

Numerous UF/IFAS Extension faculty took part in a statewide effort known as the Oriental Fruit Fly Eradication Program, or OFF Program, he said. Funded and overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the OFF Program also included representatives of the FDACS Division of Plant Industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection — Plant Protection Quarantine, the Miami-Dade County Agricultural Manager’s office, Miami-Dade County officials and growers’ organizations.

“Our faculty helped growers and regulators understand each other’s point of view,” Payne said. “Both sides were very motivated and once they recognized the need for cooperation, it wasn’t difficult to build consensus on a science-based plan to eradicate the fly.”

The fruit fly, known scientifically as Bactrocera dorsalis, is known to feed on more than 400 crops, including scores grown in Florida, Payne said. Once established, the insect may cause 25 to 50 percent losses in food-crop harvests. In August 2015, specimens began to appear in south Miami-Dade County fruit fly monitoring traps, prompting FDACS to impose a temporary quarantine on 99 square miles that include an agriculture-dependent area known as The Redland. Altogether, the county’s agricultural activities generate $1.6 billion in revenues each year.

“This fruit fly species has been detected in Florida going back to 1964, but it’s never become permanently established, and that’s because of coordinated responses like this one,” Payne said. “I applaud the FDACS leadership and I credit their fruit fly monitoring network for uncovering this threat in such a timely manner. I also want to acknowledge the losses that individual growers suffered.”

The quarantine, which took effect Sept. 2, 2015, temporarily halted sales, transportation and shipment of produce from the quarantined area, but included provisions that enabled most growers to resume these activities by executing and following a compliance agreement with FDACS, said Nick Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

In the meantime, officials stepped up efforts to eradicate the fruit fly, by applying insecticides and increasing the number of monitoring traps in infested areas. October 10 marked the last day an Oriental fruit fly was trapped in Miami-Dade County, and from then on, officials grew hopeful as the number of fly-free days increased. Eradication measures and intensive monitoring continued full-bore as OFF Program partners waited until enough time had passed for the pest to complete three life cycles, a figure that entomologists calculated and recalculated based on changing weather conditions.

During the 125-day wait, Extension personnel continued to attend meetings, organize and host workshops, circulate new information, discuss the danger the insect posed and educate growers about how they could comply with eradication regulations, Place said.

“We were facing one of the most damaging pests of food crops worldwide,” Place said. “In a situation like that, you can’t let up. I know that our people made an all-out effort to answer every question and eliminate every possibility of confusion.”

UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County Extension Director Teresa Olczyk said her agents were greatly assisted by tropical fruit crop experts from the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, notably Jonathan Crane, a horticultural sciences professor, and Daniel Carrillo, an entomology assistant professor.

“The whole Extension system exists to deliver science-based information from land-grant universities to members of the public,” Olczyk said. “We were very fortunate to have such a reliable source of expertise right here within the county.”

Among her employees, Olczyk said major contributors to the OFF Program included Jeff Wasielewski, commercial tropical fruit crops agent; Qingren Wang, commercial vegetable crops agent and pesticide trainer; E. Vanessa Campoverde, commercial ornamental crops agent; Henry Mayer, commercial urban horticulture agent and Adrian Hunsberger, urban horticulture agent. Support staff members were involved as well, providing information and answering many phone calls.

Wasielewski, who attended all OFF Program public meetings and educational events and spoke whenever needed, says his primary reaction now is the simple sense that the work was justified and well-rewarded.

“I also want to thank everyone who worked so incredibly hard and long on the OFF Program,” Wasielewski said. “This was truly a team effort and the collaboration and dedication of these individuals, agencies and institutions, along with the incredible response from the entire agricultural industry of South Florida, were crucial in eradicating the Oriental fruit fly. I hope this is the last time we ever have to deal with this pest. But if it comes back, we’re ready.”

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Photo cutline: A female Oriental fruit fly, Bactrocera dorsalis, is shown laying eggs in a papaya in this USDA-ARS file photo. On Feb. 13, 2016, the state of Florida officially lifted a quarantine on a 99 square-mile section of Miami-Dade County where the invasive pest had been found. Efforts by UF/IFAS Extension faculty were instrumental in educating growers about eradication efforts and facilitating a quick end to the quarantine. Photo by Scott Bauer.

By Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, tnordlie@ufl.edu

Sources: Jack Payne, 352-392-1971, jackpayne@ufl.edu

Nick Place, 352-392-1761, nplace@ufl.edu

Teresa Olczyk, 305-248-3311, ext. 232, twol@ufl.edu

Jeff Wasielewski, 305-248-3311, ext. 227, jwasielewski@ufl.edu