Stockton, Calif.-area cherry growers are working to stop the Oriental fruit fly in its tracks.
State and federal agriculture regulators have established a quarantine area of about 123 square miles where spraying is mandatory. Other growers outside the quarantine are spraying voluntarily to avoid crop damage.
Oriental fruit flies destroy crops by laying their eggs in the fruit. A single female can lay more than 1,000 eggs in her lifetime, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Cherries are just one of the more than 230 vegetable, fruit and plant commodities threatened by the insect.
Establishment of the quarantine area came in September after San Joaquin County pest-detection staff found two Oriental fruit flies in an insect trap in north Stockton.
Early April was decision time for cherry growers pondering voluntary compliance, given that the treatment regimen calls for spraying weekly for about four weeks prior to harvest. The harvesting of early varieties generally begins around May 1, and bings are harvested two to three weeks after that.
San Joaquin Valley agriculture officials have asked growers to contact the office if they are spraying voluntarily, since the agriculture commissioner’s office is monitoring that program.
California agriculture commissioner Scott Hudson said April 4 that more than 70 cherry growers outside the quarantine area — constituting more than 7,700 acres of orchards — had expressed an interest in spraying, and that interest among others is picking up.
“They are starting to call in pretty fast and furious,” Hudson said.
Voluntary spraying makes sense because agriculture officials could enlarge the quarantine area if they spot the Oriental fruit fly again, he said. The last fly detection was Sept. 20, and an eradication declaration could come by July.
A grower could lose the entire crop if it had to delay harvest several weeks to finish spraying.
“It’s kind of an insurance policy,” Hudson said of the spraying.
Stockton, Calif.-based Lodi Farming is one company taking that precaution, said Jeff Colombini, president.
One of Lodi Farming’s orchards is across the road from the quarantine area.
“It’s is not worth the risk to take your chances,” Colombini said.
He said Lodi Farming will use an organic spray to avoid disrupting beneficial insects, but the application won’t come cheap. Colombini anticipated it would cost more than $30,000 to treat the company’s 300 acres.
Colombini said not spraying really wasn’t an option.
“If another fruit fly is found and we were placed in the quarantine,” he said, “we would not be able to sell our product.”