Avocados are a major crop in the Sunshine State, though citrus is the most well-known. The green, oily fruit is best known for making guacamole and has also made headlines recently for studies that confirm that avocados pack a lot of heart-healthy nutrition. Avocados are a $64 million dollar industry in Florida, and just like citrus it’s under threat from disease. Laurel Wilt is devastating Florida’s avocado trees and groves and threatening growers. However, the avocado industry is getting some help from some unlikely allies: drones and dogs.
Laurel Wilt is caused by a fungus that is spread by the miniscule Ambrosia beetle. To date, it’s been hard to tell which trees are infected until it’s too late to do any kind of treatment. That’s where the drones come in. They fly over the expansive acres of the avocado groves, covering more ground than a human could, and taking video and various scans that allow human eyes to better identify trees that may be infected.
Next, grove owners send in the dogs. The fungus affects the interior of the avocado trees and isn’t obvious to the eye. Dogs, however, can smell the odor of the fungus. Then, the infected tree and those surrounding it can be treated with an IV fungicide. The use of fungus-sniffing dogs is credited to Dr. Ken Furton, a scent-detection specialist at Florida International University. The hope is that early treatment will be more successful in saving trees.
Florida is the second largest avocado producer in the country; it’s a $500 million-dollar industry nationwide. Everyone is working to save the avocado in Florida, and to keep it from spreading to the largest producer, California, and other states.