A $1.6 billion agriculture industry in Florida's Miami-Dade County is essentially at a standstill thanks to a swarm of hungry insects. About 159 Oriental fruit flies have been caught in the area in the last few weeks and agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam tells the Miami Herald it's "by far the largest outbreak we've had in this state's history." The insect infects more than 400 crops, from tomatoes to dragon fruit. To prevent its spread, officials have quarantined 85 square miles and banned the transport of most produce from the region, known as the Redland. Even if no more flies are found, the quarantine will extend to Jan. 18. "There's a lot of growers that will go bankrupt," the manager of a growing company with millions of pounds of fruit sitting untouched on trees tells NPR. "There's a lot of people they just don't have the cash flow to sustain these kind of losses."
Fly counts have been dropping lately, which is a good sign. "I'm extremely confident we'll get our arms around this, and hopefully, within a matter of a few months, we'll be out of the situation," says a Department of Agriculture rep. The state is using traps with pheremones and insecticide to catch the insects, but may start aerially spraying GF-120, an insecticide OKed for use in organic farming, if experts find a pregnant female, larvae, or see an uptick in fly numbers. That strategy won't eliminate larvae already in crops, but it's the "last, best bullet in the gun," says Putnam. The state is also seeking EPA approval to hand-spray crops with the pesticide Malathion. Some growers are impatient for aerial spraying to start, but as for hand-spraying Malathion, some organic farmers say such a move could put them out of business for a minimum of three years. As for compensation for growers, Putnam says there's nothing planned now. (Read more Florida stories.)