The agricultural quarantine that for months has gripped a large swath of South Miami-Dade farmland in an effort to stave off an Asian fruit fly outbreak will finally be lifted Saturday at midnight, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. The long-awaited relief will finally give some farmers the first chance this season to bring to market many fruits and vegetables whose movement had been heavily restricted.
“I’m looking forward to starting on Sunday,” says Bee Heaven Farm’s Margie Pikarsky, whose farm falls within the quarantine zone. “We know people that are shutting down, going out of business.”
Late last year, farmers and agricultural regulators began finding dozens of Asian fruit flies from Kendall to the Redland. The state’s agricultural department counted 165 by early November and began sounding the alarm. The invasive insect has devastated crops across the globe, attacking more than 400 kinds of fruits and vegetables. The potential infestation put many throughout the state on edge, because Florida is a major winter grower that accounts for more than $120 billion annually.
In September, the state declared an emergency, quarantined more than 80 acres, and began aerial spraying to combat the bugs. A 14-page list was distributed cataloging the fruit crops that could not be moved unless farmers undertook expensive baiting or spraying measures to prevent the flies from multiplying and spreading. Treatments ranged from blasting plants with cold air to kill live flies, using bait to catch and kill males, and even spraying chemicals such as methyl bromide to kill ones hiding among recent harvests. After treating for 30 days, farms could begin moving produce, if they had any, under strict guidelines.
Most of Miami’s organic farms eschewed the conventional sprays, instead setting costly traps. The eradication efforts also began a 90-day timer, equivalent to about three fly life cycles, counting down until the end of the quarantine.
Pikarsky says she even heard of one farmer who hauled, under the watch of state regulators, a mamey harvest to Alabama so he could radiate the fruit before trucking it back to Florida markets.
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Though farmers could now have some relief with the end of the quarantine, many are still battling unseasonable weather, extreme temperatures, and a deluge that has rendered much of the soil unusable.
“This is what happens when you’re a grower,” Pikarsky said. “Some years are terrible, some years are fantastic, some years are in between, and if you can't make that even out you won’t make it.”