Fla. avocado industry faces beetle threat

Dec. 26, 2009 at 9:48 AM

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Florida's avocado growers say they're worried about the spread of the Asian redbay ambrosia beetle.

Growers of Florida's second-largest tropical fruit crop are concerned because the invasive pest carries a fungus that has proven deadly to avocado trees and is marching southward to Miami-Dade County, where the bulk of the state's crop is grown, The Miami Herald reported Saturday.

"The avocado industry is very concentrated in one area," Craig Wheeling, president of Brooks Tropical in Homestead, Fla., told the newspaper. "It's kind of an all-or-nothing fight down here."

The crisis has come after avocado growers enjoyed a bumper, 920,000 bushel crop that came during a season of near record-high prices. But now, growers say, they're in a race against time against the beetle to save the $30 million industry.

The Herald said the Asian redbay ambrosia beetle has moved from the Carolinas through Georgia, and is now in Florida. It reported that growers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to cut down and burn trees that seem weak or infected and are spraying extra pesticides.

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