Fruit flies invading locales through olive trees

By From page A16 | April 11, 2014

There has been a recent surge of planting olive trees by homeowners to obtain a small farm water rate from El Dorado Irrigation District. Local nurseries are selling olive trees, most notably the Arbequina varietal.

“Greenstone Growers,” a local company, helps residents plant olive trees and secure a lower water rate (in order to achieve a profitable farm). According to their Website, “(Greenstone) focuses on helping personal residences, small farms and small residence farms plant and protect olive trees at affordable rates.”

Owner Craig Schmidt said, “How we got started is that we live in Greenstone country and some of the people around here decided to plant a small grove of olive trees and form a co-op.”

What has some local people concerned is the potential for a fruit fly infestation. The olive fruit fly is considered the most devastating insect pest of olives in the Mediterranean region. The larvae (maggots) of the fly infest the fruit, destroying the pulp or edible portion and rendering it useless. Secondary bacteria and fungi then invade the fruit and cause it to have a bad taste, rendering it unsuitable for extra virgin olive oil. Rotting fruit on the ground serves as a source for more fruit flies to invade neighboring trees.

“Some people in Cameron Park had planted a crop and didn’t protect the trees and they got fruit flies, which has started a scare in the area,” said Schmidt. “Our objective is to have a good crop. We have a whole community of people that live here that are working towards this goal and intend to spray for fruit flies once the trees grow and start producing fruit, which will likely be a few years out.”

While Greenstone Growers further promotes the local abundant growing of olive trees, Schmidt added, “I’ve talked with quite a few of the larger olive growers, and our focus as a company is to help people within Greenstone become a part of the co-op.”

Richard Wolf of Winterhill Olive Oil Co. (and a local olive grower) said, “We strongly support other artisanal olive oil producers, like ourselves, in El Dorado County. However, because of the high cost of farming, harvesting, pressing olives into extra virgin olive oil, packaging and then marketing it, we believe the recent upsurge in the planting of olive trees by homeowners just to obtain a low water rate will result in the eventual abandonment of the fruit and invite an olive fruit fly infestation in the county in the next five to seven years. These costs will far exceed the water savings the homeowners believe they will achieve. This will threaten the commercial olive production in the county.”

There are some growers who are not part of the Greenstone co-op and perhaps unaware of the potential for devastation. Most likely, those would include local residents who have purchased olive trees from nurseries and are not aware of the fruit fly concerns but are attempting to receive a lower agricultural water rate. The expanding concern is a lack of awareness for the devastating fruit fly.

Fruit fly traps, however, are available through Amazon or one of the local hardware stores. Those with olive trees are especially encouraged to obtain traps.

Michaela Johnson

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