While the possibility of olives becoming a commercial crop in Florida grows, research to determine what pests and diseases may affect the plants has increased.
Ornamental olive trees have been grown around Florida for over 100 years. However, olives as a commercial crop is relatively new.
Eleanor Phillips, an entomology and nematology graduate student at the University of Florida (UF), works in Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman’s lab. Phillips is researching the types of insects that are present on olive plants.
The plants Phillips is currently working on, with the support of four Florida growers, are approximately three to five years old, which she points out is very young for olive trees.
Three of the pests that currently affect olive crops in Florida are hornworms, olive shootworms and black scale, says Phillips. Hornworms and olive shootworms can both damage the leaves of olive trees. She says olive shootworms create webs to roll the leaves together, which damages the plant.
While these pests can cause difficulties for olive growers, Phillips says that there is typically a presence of positive and negative insects to create a balance in the olive plants. This balance has a positive impact on the crop, by allowing growers to worry less about certain insects they may see.
She advises that the best management practice is constantly monitoring the plant to see what insects are there and to see what effects they are having on the crop.
Phillips is also monitoring for the olive fruit fly using special traps. This fruit fly is not found in Florida yet, and she is hopeful it will not become established.
According to the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s website on olive fruit flies, larvae feed on the crop, making it unmarketable for growers.
Phillips is in the Doctor of Plant Medicine program at UF, which she says helps her get a full grasp on the health of the plant to understand how and why it is affected.
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