AUSTIN - For the first time since 1927, Texas and the United States have been declared free of the citrus-destroying Mexican fruit fly following four years of successful eradication efforts by the Texas Department of Agriculture and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
The final quarantine was lifted in Hidalgo County on Jan. 3, marking the eradication of the nation’s largest and final Mexican fruit fly stronghold in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley.
“The Lower Rio Grande Valley is a world-renowned powerhouse of quality citrus production that contributes $140 million to the overall state economy,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said. “After four years of diligence between Texas citrus producers and our agencies, an 84-year-old problem has been eliminated from Texas and the United States. The announcement that Texas and the nation are now free of the Mexican fruit fly is a milestone that holds great promise for the future prosperity of our citrus industry and economy. It also serves as a testament to the powerful partnerships that made this victory possible.”
In 2007, TDA in cooperation with APHIS and the Texas citrus industry, began a campaign to eradicate the Mexican fruit fly, or Mexfly, from the three remaining infested Texas counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV): Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo, plus seven adjacent Mexican municipalities considered part of the LRGV. In 2008, Willacy County was successfully eradicated and the Mexfly quarantine was removed. In 2010, continued successful eradication efforts prompted the removal of the quarantine from Cameron County.
“USDA commends TDA and its citrus industry partners for their sustained effort leading to this historic milestone in pest eradication,” said USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Rebecca Blue. “This event clearly demonstrates U.S. producers and agencies have the tools and perseverance to keep American agriculture free of exotic pests and competitive in the world marketplace.”
The Mexican fruit fly is native to southern and central Mexico. Each year, the pest enters the LRGV’s 27,000 acres of commercial citrus crops from south of the border and attacks more than 40 different kinds of fruits. Damage occurs when the female fly lays eggs in the fruit, which then hatch into larvae, making the fruit unmarketable.
The fly is also a threat to surrounding citrus-producing states, including California, Arizona, Louisiana and Florida. Economic losses due to infestation not only are measured in damaged crops, but also in costs associated with eradication and shipping protocols aimed at consumer protection.
Primary eradication tactics include surveillance; bait sprays and Sterile Insect Techniques (SIT), which will continue to be utilized to create a long-term, functional barrier to keep the LRGV and surrounding areas free of the devastating Mexfly.