Drones and Dogs Save the Guac

Since one of Valmie’s focus areas is agriculture, I read with great interest a news story about a devastating fungal disease that is threatening the half-billion dollar U.S. avocado market. On subtropical farmland in south Florida, researchers are dong battle with a deadly fungus, laurel wilt. The fungus has killed an estimated 6,000 avocado trees in Florida, the second largest avocado producer in the nation, and is putting that state’s entire $64 million industry at risk.

The microscopic ambrosia beetle, an invasive species from Asia, produces the fungal disease. Once infected, the fungus travels quickly to the tree’s interior and the tree can be dead within six weeks. It is invisible to the naked eye and cannot be detected during the early stages. The disease can spread quickly, infecting surrounding trees and turning lush groves into areas of devastation.

Enter the dynamic duo of drones and dogs!

Scientists from Florida International University and the University of Florida, along with the owners of a drone company and a canine detection team joined forces to help stop the spread of laurel wilt. Drones cover large expanses and can pinpoint infested areas using thermal digital imaging cameras. Researchers analyze the images and videos to identify the stressed trees. Once drones narrow the search area, trained dogs get to work. Although the infestation is invisible to the human eye, it is inescapable to the noses of the trained dogs that can sniff out the fungus deep inside the tree.

Farmers can then treat the tree with an IV fungicide so it doesn’t infect the rest of the grove. Early detection means early treatment, the same as with humans.

Scientists are attempting to control the disease and prevent it from reaching California, the nation’s largest avocado producer. University officials are anticipating this two-pronged detection system of drones and dogs may be adaptable to other diseases such as citrus greening.

America loves guacamole and the hashtag researchers have adopted for this mission is #savetheguac. Valmie certainly appreciates the value that drones and dogs bring to this menacing situation.