Shoo fly, shoo

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Neighborhood farmers markets donned a strikingly different look over the last few weeks as a majority of farmers selling a sundry of ripe fruits and vegetables now cover their wares with sheets of plastic or large tarps, instead of displaying them outright. This precaution is due to a recent Oriental fruit fly infestation, which has 123 square miles of land quarantined from the north near El Camino Avenue to the south near Laguna Boulevard.

The Sacramento Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, along with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, are working together to eradicate the problematic fly, which is attracted to more than 230 different “host plants” like cucumbers, summer and winter squash, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

Juli Jensen, Sacramento Agricultural Commissioner & Director of Weights and Measures, told SN&R that the county runs a detection trapping program every year looking for infestations for a number of different exotic and invasive insect pests. The Oriental fruit fly is one they specifically trap for. Jensen says the county found its first fruit fly on July 30, but have since logged 15, one being female.

Finding a female fruit fly in the mix tipped off experts that a breeding population exists.

“There are a couple of different treatments being made from the Department of Food and Agriculture on the properties and the adjacent properties where the flies were trapped,” Jensen says.

She added that several treatments are being sprayed like the MAT Treatment (Male Attractive Treatment), which is sprayed in a 200-meter radius around each of the finds. When the male fruit flies are attracted to that spot, they die.

For small farmers growing produce within the quarantine area like Randy Stannard and Sarah McCamman, who co-own a one-acre farm located in the Tallac Village neighborhood called Root 64 Sacramento, the infestation prevents them from selling certain produce at the Oak Park Farmers Market, one of the couple’s biggest income makers.

“That’s the biggest impact for us. There’s a program that we’ve entered into that we’re using. It’s a spray treatment and we’re using the organic version,” Stannard says. “We have to do four treatments within a 30-day period and the plants can be treated every seven to 10 days.”

The treatments Stannard is using at Root 64 protects the produce and prevents the fruit fly from spreading further. Still, Root 64 is unable to bring fruiting plants to market until the CDFA approves the crops after the 30-day treatment period.

“We can bring beets and cilantro and that sort of stuff to the market because it’s not a host plant,” Stannard says. “For the next nine months, anybody bringing produce into the quarantine area, even if it’s grown outside of the quarantine area, needs to protect all of those fruiting crops like you were seeing with netting.”

As for how long this quarantine will last, Jensen says if the county keeps finding flies, it can last until May 2019. But with the ongoing treatments, traps and the upcoming cold weather season that slows down insect breeding, hopefully that won’t be the case.