Florida growers may be battling laurel wilt disease, but they aren’t beaten by it.
“It’s not welcome news by any means, but it isn’t this devastating, traumatic thing that will destroy the avocado industry,” said Jonathan Crane, tropical fruit crop specialist for the Tropical Research & Education Center at the University of Florida.
Growers and researchers throughout Florida have been preparing for a positive finding of the disease since 2006, according to Crane.
He’s grateful for the support he’s seen from growers and the community as they continue to fight this problem.
“I feel fortunate that the industry has dedicated itself to trying to detect the disease and then taking action when they find it,” he said.
Crane says research has been one of the industry’s best weapons for fighting laurel wilt.
“We have learned a tremendous amount about the insect and the disease, and there are short-term and long-term strategies in development.”
“It’s important that people remember this was a foreign, exotic problem, and we were starting from zero. In order to figure out how to manage it, we have to learn the biology,” Crane said.
Chemicals are being tested for short-term treatment while natural repellents, fungicide treatments, trap and kill methods and even the introduction of a natural enemy to the redbay ambrosia beetle are being considered as possibilities for long-term control options.
“We’re also screening the various avocado varieties for tolerance and resistance,” he said.
Aerial surveys recently were implemented to detect suspicious-looking trees.
“Those are extremely effective because when you’re walking and looking up, it’s easy to miss. From above, it’s easier to pinpoint wilt,” said Denise Feiber, public information director for the Division of Plant Industry at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Once the symptoms are seen from above, samples can be located and taken from the ground in order to test the tree.
Feiber says reaching out to the community is one of the main tools to fight the disease.
The division tries to educate people to not move firewood because it might be contaminated and to buy trees only from registered nurseries. The division also sponsors a “Save the Guac” informative website that gives out free bumper stickers.
“We’ve been pushing this for several years, but it’s hard to convince people their actions have these consequences,” she said.