Friday, July 31, 2009

Killer avocado disease discovered in Florida

Excerpts from an article published on 07/30/2009 by Doug Ohlemeier

Scientists have found a south Florida commercial avocado tree infected with a disease known to kill avocado trees.This is the first case of the laurel wilt fungus discovered inside south Florida’s avocado growing region.

The laurel wilt disease — spread by the red bay ambrosia beetle — threatens Florida's avocado trees. Officials confirmed a positive discovery of the red bay ambrosia beetle in the northern part of the growing area in a southern Miami-Dade County grove on July 28.

The tiny beetle spreads the disease, which can destroy half the state’s avocado crop.
Previously, the it had been detected in Okeechobee and Martin counties, north and west of Palm Beach County.

“We are a little surprised that it has appeared to leap this far south,” said Jonathan Crane, a tropicals fruit crops extension research specialist with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Fla.

“Our researchers here are in hyperdrive and are working closely with industry, scientists and others to try to get a handle on this as quickly as possible,” Crane said.

Researchers are collecting samples from other groves and are awaiting for the beetles to emerge from the positive find, Crane said.

Craig Wheeling, chief executive officer of Homestead-based Brooks Tropicals Inc., said he’s encouraged by the $2.5 million in state and federal research funding the industry has been able to secure less than two years after the disease was first detected in the Carolinas.

“We as an industry have really stepped up the efforts,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done now. We don’t know much about the life cycle of the bug.”

Leaders of the Miami-Dade Co. Farm Bureau and Extension service scheduled an Aug. 5 emergency meeting where researchers and others plan to recommend control steps to growers, handlers, packers and shippers.

More information on the disease can be found at the
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Web site.With 7,500 acres, Florida’s $30 million crop represents the country’s second-largest avocado-producing state.