Monday, November 29, 1999

Florida fights to keep Medflies away from citrus

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Florida is battling its first major Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak in a dozen years and hopes to keep the destructive insects from threatening the state's $9 billion citrus fruit industry, agriculture officials said on Wednesday.The Mediterranean fruit fly, or Medfly, is one of the world's most destructive agricultural pests and attacks more than 250 food plants, including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, apples, guava, mango, tomatoes and peppers.They breed explosively, with the females laying eggs in oranges and other fruits which are destroyed as the larvae emerge and eat their way out."This is a disturbing find," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said in a news release.Thirty adult Medflies and 11 larvae have been found in the last two weeks during routine inspection of traps in mango, loquat and sour orange trees in a residential area in Palm Beach County, said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Agriculture Department's Division of Plant Industry."That's quite a high number of adult flies to have found," Feiber said.Palm Beach County is in the southeast part of the state, while most of the commercial orange groves are in Central Florida. The state produces 70 percent of U.S. citrus fruit, and 90 percent of its crop is processed for juice.Inspectors have put out 2,000 additional traps in the Boca Raton area where the insects were found and are checking them daily to see how far the infestation has spread, Feiber said.They are removing fruit from infected trees and spraying the leaves and surrounding soil with Spinosad, an insecticide that is derived from a naturally occurring soil organism and approved for use on organic crops, the agriculture department said.By the end of the week, the department plans to release 250,000 sterile male Medflies in the area, a biological control that has proven effective in the past. Females that mate with the sterile males cannot reproduce.It is the first major Medfly outbreak since 1997-98, when Florida carried out a $32 million pesticide spraying program over nine counties to protect its crops.Since 2002, a state and federal program has protectively released millions of sterile males in high-risk areas.The source of the outbreak was unknown. Agriculture inspectors occasionally seize maggot-infested fruit from travelers arriving at Florida airports and seaports.Inspectors declare the insects to be eradicated if they find no adult flies in the area for three consecutive life cycles of 21 days each."So we know we're going to be working on it through the summer," Feiber said.(Editing by Jim Marshall)

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