The expanded Medfly quarantine zone brings the campaign to eradicate the pest to the edge of the county’s multimillion-dollar farming industry, worrying growers that their crops may be in the path of danger.
Boundaries were expanded by 48 miles on Monday, increasing the Medfly quarantine area to 113 square miles centered in Westminster, Santa Ana and Tustin.
Growers are crossing their fingers that no more Medflies are discovered and the zone isn’t extended to prime agricultural land.
“Normally the cool winter weather and the rains will take care of the Medfly population,” Allan Price, assistant manager of the 900-acre Irvine Valencia Growers, said Wednesday. “If not, we are in big, big trouble. Citrus is the primary host of the Medfly. They love these things.”
Alan Reynolds, general manager of 4,000-acre Treasure Farms, which specializes in citrus, bell peppers and tomatoes, now has only a sliver of land in Tustin within the quarantine zone. He hopes it stays that way.
“At this point we are fortunate, the boundaries are right on the edge of most of our orchards,” Reynolds said. “But if (the quarantine zone) is expanded more, it will mean a significant change in how we do our business.”
If their orchards become quarantined, farmers must begin spraying their crops with malathion or a similar chemical. Further, on-site structures would be built to store the fruit, which would be packaged and marked as being grown in a quarantined area, Reynolds said.
And farmers say quarantined food would have to be sold domestically, rather than in better markets such as the Pacific Rim, where Southern California crops fetch much higher prices.
Although much of this year’s orange crop is already picked and on its way to market, the quarantine probably would last nine months, extending into next year’s growing season, according to Reynolds.
If the quarantine zone is expanded into agricultural areas, it would most dramatically affect citrus and avocado growers--a $26 million annual industry in Orange County alone--whose fruit comes from orchards, said John Ellis, the county’s deputy commissioner of agriculture.
While Medflies enjoy several types of fruit as hosts for reproduction, including row crops such as tomatoes and bell peppers, they prefer the crops a farmer cannot change, like tree-bearing citrus and avocados, Ellis said.
“The avocado and citrus people are at risk more than the other farmer who can change his crop,” Ellis said. “If you have row crops and know there is a quarantine, you can plant something else. You can’t change an orange tree to something else. Once an orchard is in production, it’s very difficult to change crops.”
It is difficult to predict whether the Medfly quarantine might be expanded further, said Larry Hawkins, spokesman for the Cooperative Medfly Project. Changes in the quarantine zone depend on whether additional Medflies are discovered in special traps set to track their whereabouts.
“We might go another 10 years and not find another fly,” Hawkins said. “Then again, if we found new Medflies, we would go ahead and expand the area.”
Hawkins said Monday’s 48-square-mile expansion stemmed from the discovery on Sept. 2 of five male Medflies in a peach tree near the intersection of East McFadden and Standard avenues in Santa Ana.
It was the second Medfly find in Orange County this year, after 28 Medflies were found between June 30 and Aug. 8 in Westminster, six miles west of the Santa Ana site.
Although the expansion of the quarantine left out most of the county’s commercial growers, it included many residential “back-yard gardeners” who may have only a single tree, but can spread an infestation nonetheless, Ellis said.
Under the rules of the quarantine, those gardeners were warned not to move fresh fruit or vegetables from their property and to cook, freeze, can or puree any excess or throw it away in a tightly sealed container.
“People who are sharing their back-yard production with neighbors and relatives, even a couple of blocks away, can make a significant difference,” Ellis said.
Boundaries of the new quarantine area are, roughly, Chapman Avenue to the north, Foothill Boulevard, Jamboree Road and Culver Drive to the east, and the San Diego Freeway to the south. The area meets the Westminster quarantine area along Fairview Road to the west.