Santa Cruz County on alert as oriental fruit fly forces Bay Area quarantines on homegrown, farmers market produce
After officials in Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties put homegrown fruit and vegetables from more than 200 square miles under quarantine after detecting oriental fruit flies, Santa Cruz County is stepping up its own monitoring. None of the flies, which burrow into fruit and render it inedible, have been detected locally.
A tiny fruit fly is making a big impact on residents and agricultural businesses in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz County officials are watching the situation closely.
The oriental fruit fly has been detected in parts of the Bay Area, causing local officials to declare quarantines of homegrown and other locally bred fruits and vegetables in portions of Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties. Residents, nurseries, farms, farmers markets and other agricultural businesses within a 99-square-mile area in Contra Costa County and a 112-square-mile area in Santa Clara County must adhere to strict regulations to limit the spread of this destructive pest.
So far, the fruit fly hasn’t been detected in Santa Cruz County — although pest detection staff are on the lookout. “We have high vigilance right now. Our pest detection staff is putting out traps and monitoring for these insects,” Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner David Sanford said.
Santa Cruz County, in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), has pest detection programs in place and seasonal trackers check traps daily. “It is worrying to see these numbers nearby in Santa Clara County, but we’re hopeful,” said Sanford. “We’ve got a great staff and we’re just keeping our eyes peeled.”
Homegrown fruits and vegetables must be consumed or processed within the quarantine areas, Santa Clara County declared in a statement, or disposed of by double-bagging, sealing the items and placing them in the trash. Farmers bringing produce to farmers markets in the quarantine areas may not take unsold fruits and vegetables out of the area; similar precautions will affect nurseries and other outdoor food vendors.
The limitations are likely to stay in place through June 1, 2024.
This small invasive fly from Asia can cause a huge impact on crops by burrowing itself into fruits and vegetables, making them inedible. Some of the most susceptible crops are also some of the most valuable in California: avocados, apples, citrus, tomatoes and peppers.
“It would be disastrous for the oriental fruit fly to get established in Santa Clara County and California,” Santa Clara County Agricultural Commissioner Joe Deviney said. “We all need to be vigilant in protecting our agricultural and natural resources. Please do not bring or ship any fruits, vegetables or plants into California without ensuring they are permitted by law.”
To eradicate the flies, the CDFA applies bait high on street trees, utility poles and other surfaces within a 1.5-mile radius of where the flies were discovered. The bait contains methyl eugenol, a natural compound that attracts the flies, and spinosad, an organic pesticide that kills them. This approach has successfully and safely prevented potential fruit fly infestations for decades.
Fruit fly finds throughout the state this year are up and a cause for concern for agricultural commissions throughout California, Sanford added. In August, for the first time ever, the invasive Tau fruit fly was detected in Los Angeles County. The discovery led the CDFA to place 79 square miles of the county under quarantine. Earlier this summer, two invasive peach fruit flies were found in separate areas of Palo Alto in Santa Clara County.
The cause of the unusually busy fruit fly season is unclear. One theory, said Sanford, is that there is more normal movement of people since the pandemic: “These types of pests can be hitchhikers on plant material or nursery stock. Also, things are getting warmer. Over time, climate change may have an impact as well.”
The inception of these precautions goes back to an invasion of medflies, one of the most destructive pests in the world, in San Jose in the 1980s. The discovery led to harsh measures, including extensive spraying of pesticides, and a local economic loss of more than $30 million. Said Sanford, “The best alternative is to keep the detection strength up and prevent it before it gets established.”
Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.