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Orchard growers in collapse as pests decimate crops in Florida

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(NaturalNews) Florida's $1.6 billion agricultural industry is teetering on the verge of collapse. The harvesting of multiple fruits just south of Miami, in Redland, has been suspended. A 97-square mile agricultural quarantine is now in place to try and control a foreign pest that has begun to unleash its destruction.

"Everything came to a standstill," said Victoria Barnes, just as she prepared to harvest her early season avocados. Her farmland, which lies in the quarantine zone, is under attack from the Oriental fruit fly. Since August, Barnes estimates that she's lost around 12,000 pounds of fruit to the destructive flies. The quarantine is driving some orchards out of business. Fruit and vegetable distributor J&C Tropicals lost $1 million in sales in just five weeks. The quarantine is set to last until February 2016.

This is "probably the most devastating insect that we could have," said Barnes. "We have over a thousand trees and since the last days of August, nothing has been picked. Nothing has gone out of this farm."

Worst fruit fly outbreak in Florida's history threatens entire agricultural system

The invasive Oriental fruit fly, also known as Bactrocera dorsalis, is native to China and northern India. U.S. officials aren't quite sure how the fly made it into the country; what they're sure of, however, is that it is quickly multiplying and bringing down the agricultural system in Florida. The pest feeds off 432 known plants, and these include some of Florida's finest.

The Florida Department of Agriculture reports, "Countries with established Oriental fruit fly populations have typical crop losses of 25-50 percent."

The agency warns, "If it becomes established in the continental United States, it will ravage commercial agriculture." This is why signs are being put up all over Redland — to warn locals and passersby not to move fruit. If the fruit fly takes off anywhere else in the U.S., the entire agricultural system could falter.

Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam said the state has fought off fruit fly invasions in the past, but this year's attack is "by far the largest outbreak we've had in this state's history." So far, 165 flies have been isolated. During warm seasons, female flies can produce 1,500 eggs during their 30-day life cycle. The flies inject the fruit with up to 20 eggs. As the larvae take over the inside of the fruit, it falls from the tree.

Intense pesticide requirements to be implemented in full force during quarantine

Agricultural officials will be requiring all produce that go to market to be doused with more pesticides.

"The department has entered more than 1,200 compliance agreements with growers, packers and others within the industry in order to conduct pre- and post-harvest treatment that would allow the products to be moved into the marketplace," wrote Florida Department of Agriculture's communications director Jennifer Meale.

The quarantine has practically seized farmers' properties in Redland. Inspectors are being sent out to make sure that all 800 farmers in the region comply with the new, stricter pesticide regimen.

Some businesses, however, cannot live up to the pesticide requirements handed down by the state. Noel Ruiz, who once made $700 a day selling avocados, sweet potatoes, mameys, onions and bananas, now has nothing to show for. "We have not been able to sell anything since the problem with the fly began," he said.

"If before, a box of avocado cost 10 dollars, now it is 40 dollars. Everything is more expensive."

The cost of passion fruit, dragon fruit and bright green Florida avocados is expected to skyrocket as harvest remains on lockdown until February 2016.



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