Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman, associate Extension scientist at UF, says in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service her team is looking for signs of pests in Florida olive crops. Her team is currently examining four different olive crop plots once per month in partnership with local olive growers who are allowing access to their groves.
After taking samples from each of the four plots, she says her team looks for pests on the plant itself, as well as missing or discolored leaves, which could signify a pest issue. There are also pest traps in these plots to capture insects that are already prominent in the area.
Gillett-Kaufman says this research is being conducted to determine possible devastating pest issues that may thwart the growers who are attempting to start an olive industry in Florida. This research project was funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as part of the Florida Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
An insect that is a relative of the tomato hornworm caterpillar has been found damaging olive trees in Florida. Gillett-Kaufman says Florida is the only olive-growing location that has recorded having this pest present. The pest is typically only a problem for nurseries when the trees are small because of the large size of the larvae and the number of leaves they can consume on the trees. The leaves of the trees do grow back, but this can still cause a time-consuming issue for the grower, according to Gillett-Kaufman.
Another concern is that citrus pests could become olive pests. Gillett-Kaufman says in terms of citrus pests, black scale and citrus nematodes are also olive pests.
While Gillett-Kaufman says there is not enough research or data for industry leaders to advise those who are interested in growing olives, she does say UF researchers are working to study this crop and are supporting the possibility of growing olives in Florida.
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