Avocados Are at Risk, and Drones and Dogs Are Here to Protect Them

By Mike Pomranz |

© Jon12 / Stockimo / Alamy

After citrus, avocados are Florida’s second-biggest fruit crop. But now that precious guacamole ingredient is under assault from a fungus brought to the state by an invasive species. Scientists are worried that if they can’t stop the spread of this disease soon, the next stop could be the avocado farms of California or Mexico.

Laurel wilt, a fungus brought to the US from Asia by the ambrosia beetle, kills a variety of trees in the laurel tree family—of which the avocado tree is a member—but the potential problem it poses to the avocado industry has the largest economic impact. The fungus is especially tough to stop because by the time a tree shows symptoms of the disease, it’s too late. “This is probably the biggest threat to the Florida avocado that's ever been seen,” Jonathan H. Crane, a tropical fruit crop specialist at the University of Florida, told the Associated Press.

To save Florida avocado farms, scientists have enlisted an odd mix of high-tech drones and man’s best friend to hunt down the beetles and the fungus they carry while there’s still time to salvage the trees. The drones use a thermal digital imaging camera to find stressed trees. Once identified, dogs are brought in to sniff out which ones are actually infected. At that point, the doomed trees can be removed and burned while surround plants are hopefully salvaged through the use of fungicides.

To help raise awareness of their efforts, Florida avocado farmers have been promoting the hashtag “#savetheguac.” If the fungus does make its way to California, it could have a serious impact on the state, where 90 percent of America’s avocado crop comes from—so the possible implication are dire. In truth, this is about more than just guac: All foods made with avocados are at stake. We can’t go back to putting jelly on our toast, people! We just can’t! #SaveTheGuac

Related: 7 Ways to Use Avocado that Go Beyond Guacamole 
5 Ways to Devour Avocado for Dessert (Yes, Dessert!)
7 Ways to Transform Your Avocado Toast