California has its first known appearance in a commercial crop of the black fig fly, a pest that only feeds on that particular fruit. Figs are not a major crop in California, though more are grown in the state than anywhere else in the United States.

A small orchard in Ventura County became the first site of a CDFA hold on July 12 after positive identification of the fly. The hold means the grower was asked not to move fruit off the property to prevent the fly’s spread to other places, said Andy Cline, assistant director of CDFA’s Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services Division.


Ben Faber, a farm advisor with U.C. Cooperative Extension in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, said he had been getting calls since June from homeowners and rare-fruit growers who would describe a damaged fig and want to know what had hurt it. But it wasn’t until the agriculture commissioner’s office in Ventura County received a fig sample with the larvae in it that officials could definitively identify it with DNA testing. Faber said while it was the first positive identification of this particular fly in California, it had been found in Mexico. “The major transporters of pests and disease here,” Faber said, are people taking fruit with them to different places. That’s why California has border inspections even at state lines, not just the Mexican border.

Once the fig fly was identified, CDFA “engaged industry pretty quickly” to alert growers in the Central Valley, which has the majority of commercial fig trees, said Mark McLaughlin, director of CDFA’s Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services Division. His team also issued a pest advisory and he said USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service is partnering with the state to conduct a risk assessment.

Cline said new invasive pests are frequently found in California and “we do have increasing pest pressure and an increasing rate of the number of invasive species that do actually get detected every year.” The pressure from “exotic fruit flies” is especially consistent, he said. These fly species are similar but attracted to different specific food sources and Cline said that, while developing a custom attractant for each species would be ideal, the sheer number of different ones makes that impossible. Instead, they emphasize detection and then a formulated response that aims to eradicate new species.

McLaughlin said USDA and state agencies are important, but different, partners. The federal government plays a larger role when crops are key exports or a pest may come in on imports versus states working together when a common crop is threatened, such as with citrus pests. McLaughlin said funding to maintain the work comes from many sources, including competitive grants through the farm bill. The federal government has not made as much funding available this year as in the past , he said, and he has a constant need to secure enough funding “to ensure that we carry the mission out of the department.”

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When everything goes as planned, containing a new pest is possible, as has so far been the case with the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), which causes citrus greening and decimated crops in Florida, Texas and Brazil before it was identified in California.

UC Extension’s Faber said fig trees can have two crops in a year and if a grower gets out ahead of any black fig fly presence with traps and sanitation, “they could effectively eliminate the flies going after the fall crop.” But they would need to act fast, he said.

He hopes they are successful because “it's a really dandy piece of fruit.”

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