Discovery of fruit flies prompts quarantine |

Discovery of fruit flies prompts quarantine

FRESNO (AP) – County officials have asked the state to impose a produce quarantine in a swath of America’s most productive farmland after the discovery of six tiny fruit flies that can destroy fruits and vegetables.

This would be the first quarantine in Fresno County in two decades. It is blamed on the discovery of the peach fruit fly, which can ruin about 50 types of tree fruit as well as some vegetables. Farms in an 85-square mile zone will be sprayed with pesticides and shipments will face inspections.

The county is waiting for state approval before setting the boundaries of the quarantine, Fresno County Agriculture Commissioner Jerry Prieto Jr. That is expected to happen by the end of the week. The quarantine must last through two life cycles of the fly or about two months.

The county agriculture department began finding the fruit flies last week, leading to restrictions that would prohibit people from carrying fruit out of boundaries. The flies, which can ruin peaches, apricots, citrus and figs, as well as some vegetables, may not hurt the industry the way the Mediterranean fly did in the past, though any pest is a threat to the county’s leading industry, Prieto said.

Medflies caused quarantines during the 1980s and ’90s, mostly in Southern California. Several countries banned products that were grown in quarantined areas. More recently, the glassy-winged sharpshooter has spread disease to California vineyards, killing more than 300 acres of Riverside County grapevines in 1999.

The area where the peach fruit flies were found does not have much commercial agriculture. Fruits and vegetables there are safe to eat or can, Prieto said.

“We’re absolutely scared of this,” said Mike Jura Jr., 44, who grows figs in the area.

Growers would have to apply pesticides four times over several weeks, rendering the current harvest unfit to leave the quarantine, Jura said.

“We had an average crop this year as it is. If we’re unable to get it to market, it will be disheartening. It’ll definitely affect our bottom line,” he said.

The quarantine will rely on the honor system. Farmers market sellers will not be able to take leftover goods out of the area and truckers will have to cover their shipments, Prieto said.

Those who violate the quarantine will face undisclosed fines.

After a certain number of the flies are found, the county automatically must impose a quarantine. This is the first quarantine in the county in about 20 years, Prieto said.

Last week, workers set about 300 traps in trees and telephone poles to bring out any other flies. The lures contained a combination of pheromones to attract males and kill them with a pesticide.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture has also been spraying the area with pesticide treatments for the past few days.

The county agriculture department will begin a door-to-door campaign to warn residents in the affected region not to move backyard fruits and vegetables, Prieto said.

The peach fruit flies are a southeast Asian variety and likely got to Fresno when someone smuggled fruit in from another country, said Blair Richardson, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

“There are reasons why these rules are in place and one of those is to protect the agriculture industry,” Richardson said.

“Enjoy fruit where you’re at and then leave it there.”

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