Florida is on the way to eradicating the largest outbreak of Oriental fruit flies in the state's history, an agriculture official told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Since Aug. 26, a record 165 of the voracious insects have been found in part of Miami-Dade County that is mainly agricultural land, with an estimated 2,000 growers, nurseries and other businesses affected.
The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has responded with a series of measures --- including aerial spraying earlier this month --- designed to quell the threat before it further affects Florida's $1.6 billion agriculture industry.
"This came at a very bad time, in a very bad place --- but we're on it," Trevor Smith, the department's director of plant industry, told the Senate Agriculture Committee. "We're all over it."
A quarantine is in effect for 98 square miles in Miami-Dade's Redland area, where growers and other businesses had signed 1,300 compliance agreements by Thursday promising to destroy potentially infected crops. Additionally, they must allow state and federal agriculture officials to move in and out of the area.
Also within the quarantined area, approximately 16 square miles received an aerial spray treatment on the nights of Oct. 2 and Oct. 3. The product used was Spinosad, or GF-120, which the agriculture department noted is approved for use on organic crops and poses no threat to people, livestock or pets.
"It's very safe," Smith said. "It's organic."
In another move, the state has baited 25,000 traps for adult Asian male fruit flies.
Also, as of Oct. 7, state and federal agriculture officials had stripped 147,625 pounds of fruit from trees where larvae had been found, so that the flies would lack places to lay their eggs.
State Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, raised questions about a lack of help for farmers.
"I think it's unfair that we're asking certain farmers to treat their land or strip their produce to protect the rest of the state," Garcia said. "To some of these farmers, that's all they live from … and we are doing nothing to help these individuals."
"That's a good point, and I think it's one we can look at," committee Chairman Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, replied.
So far the eradication efforts have cost roughly $800,000, Smith said, with 94 state and 26 federal agriculture officials involved. The state is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture for another $3 million.
As to how much longer the eradication program would last, Smith said that will be determined by the fruit flies' life cycle, which can last several months. Three life cycles must pass without a sighting for the eradication program to be considered complete. If none are sighted by Feb. 24, Smith said, the program will end.
"If we find another fruit fly, this resets," he said.