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Officials Quick to React to Fruit Flies

Officials Quick to React to Fruit Flies

Since the first Mexican fruit flies were found in a Valley Center citrus grove on Nov. 21, county, state and federal officials have scrambled to contain a disaster that could cripple the local agricultural industry.

Shortly after the discovery of the pests in inland North County, agricultural officials pegged the potential damage at $75 million. Three weeks later, that calculation essentially remains the same.

That’s a devastating figure, to be sure. Some citrus and avocado farmers and ranchers will lose an entire year’s worth of work. And the economic effects of quarantine under way in North County will last well into 2003.

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But the fact that the $75 million figure did not dramatically climb as the crisis grew indicates the emergency measures implemented by government officials and crop owners in the days after the infestation is working.

Just five days after the initial find, county supervisors declared a state of emergency to fight the infestation. After the 1999 infestation in Fallbrook that caused some $50 million in crop losses, county officials realized swift action was essential to rescue a big portion of the county’s fourth-largest industry.

The supervisors’ declaration Nov. 26 has helped expedite efforts to eradicate the fruit fly. Troops of people from the California Conservation Corps descended upon North County groves, stripping trees of their fruit to be buried. Signs were posted along the area’s major roads notifying people of the pending quarantine.

Fortunately, it appears all the flies so far have been found in a relatively small 2 & #733;-mile radius, meaning the infestation has not spread beyond its core area. While the damage has been done locally, such quick actions limiting the fruit fly’s spread is imperative to saving the region and the state as well from a permanent blow to the agriculture industry.

Should the fruit fly move across the state, an estimated $100 million in export sales would be lost annually. Backyard gardens would have to be heavily treated with pesticides. Organic farms would suffer severe setbacks.

If the fly were to establish itself here, eradication would be unlikely. It would eventually spread to other states as well.

As one farmer noted, it’s a hurry-up-and-wait game right now, as they await the establishment of the quarantine’s boundaries. For the farmers, as well as consumers, the sooner the better.

, Rick Bell

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