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By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

California’s fruit and poultry industries are facing serious production strains due to two distinct, flighted adversaries — the Oriental fruit fly and migratory birds.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is preparing a large-scale fruit removal in Southern California to mitigate the presence of Oriental fruit flies. Meanwhile, poultry owners in the Central Valley are taking precautions to prevent the spread of avian influenza.

Over 2,000 homeowners in San Bernardino County will have fruit removed from their trees by CDFA officials in an effort to eradicate the invasive Oriental fruit fly. Citrus trees as well as other fruit-producing plants in the Redlands area will be removed through February according to a CDFA press release.

“If left unchecked, the Oriental fruit fly could become permanently established and cause billions of dollars’ worth of losses annually, which would significantly impact California’s food supply,” the release said.

According to Bodil Cass, UC Riverside Cooperative Extension specialist, the estimated economic cost of the fly ranges from $4 million to $176 million in crop losses, pesticide use, and quarantine requirements.

Residents in the fruit-removal area have been cautioned not to remove fruit themselves or move produce from their property.

Along with mounting concerns of a fruit fly invasion, the avian flu is spreading at an alarming rate, impacting four commercial flocks, 2 backyard flocks, and 1,662,660 birds in the last 30 days. Since the avian flu outbreaks began roughly two years ago, the USDA has spent over $1 billion to compensate farmers for lost flocks as well as to mitigate the spread of the disease.

The bird flu is primarily transmitted by migratory birds such as ducks and geese, which carry the virus and quickly spread it through droppings and nasal discharges. The current outbreak has resulted in nearly 82 million slaughtered birds — primarily egg-laying chickens — in 47 states, the USDA reported.

“I think this is an existential issue for the commercial poultry industry. The virus is on every continent, except for Australia at this point,” Maurice Pitesky, a poultry expert at the University of California, Davis, told the Associated Press.

Pitesky urged poultry owners to take necessary precautions to prevent their birds from encountering waterfowl. However, if birds cannot stay confined, he recommends keeping up good sanitation practices as well as the continuous monitoring of flocks.

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