Ag Today September 29, 2017

Solano farmer rolls ‘7’ in gamble against Medfly quarantine

By Todd R. Hansen, Fairfield Daily Republic

FAIRFIELD — Derrick Lum was staring at the prospect of losing two important crops and a lot of income. So he rolled the dice.

They came up “seven.”

“I knew my crops of walnuts and persimmons would be harvested within the month. So I asked the county what I can do if a quarantine is in effect,” Lum said Thursday, one day after a Mediterranean fruit fly quarantine was declared in the county.

Those options left the possibility that he would have to wait too long to harvest and ship out his crops, and they would be lost.

“It (would be) in the thousands of dollars,” Lum said of the financial hit.

Lum, a third-generation Solano County farmer, has 8 acres of persimmons and 13 acres of walnuts. He also grows olives and various row crops in the Suisun Valley.

In the end, Lum and at least one other grower did not wait for the state to declare the quarantine to act.

He decided to treat his crops in advance.

“You could wait and see if a quarantine was going into effect,” Lum said, “but that’s a roll of the dice.”

The treatments are “an expense that is unforeseen. But spending this money being proactive is better than losing my crops,” he said.

The down side was he was spending money on treating his crops that may prove to be unnecessary if the Medfly trapping program did not find any additional flies after the first had been discovered in August.

Three others, however, have been found and a quarantine is in effect for an area expected to be about 81 square miles. Lum’s farm on Mankas Corner Road is in that zone.

The formal boundaries of the quarantine area are expected to be set late Friday or early Monday, said Simone Hardy, assistant agriculture commissioner for Solano County.

The first of what will be four treatment applications took place three weeks before the quarantine was called, and Lum will get the necessary exemptions to ship out his product to various vendors in and out of the state.

“About Oct. 7th or 8th, I will satisfy all the requirements of the (California Department of Food and Agriculture) quarantine and will be able to ship my crops,” Lum said.

Another decision he had to make was what kind of treatment to use.

“It’s an organic chemical, so the (danger) of the application is a lot softer . . . but it satisfies the regulations to eradicate Medflies,” Lum said.

Lum is frustrated by the perception that farmers are somehow to blame for the infestation, when the pests are actually imported into the state and growers take the brunt of the consequences.

“It’s not the farmers. We’re the casualties of this quarantine,” Lum said. “This is when the agriculture community takes a big risk and a big hit.”

This is the second quarantine Lum has lived through in Solano County and his third overall.

“All us farmers work all year long to get a crop like this, and when we are so close to our harvest and reaping the benefits of all that hard work, and then we face a quarantine,” Lum said.

After his final treatment, a county biologist will come out and complete a final inspection.

But that is not the end for the farmers. Since the quarantine is likely to be in effect into the springtime, Lum said there will be other precautions farmers will take to make sure the fields, vineyards and orchards are clean.

“Our concern is not so much the hard winter months, it will be in the spring when the temperatures reach (a point) when the flies are active again,” Lum said.

“You do not want this to get out,” Lum said.

Todd R. Hansen is Reporter-Editor for the Daily Republic. He covers Solano County, Transportation, the Environment and General Assignment. Reach him at 427-6932 or thansen@dailyrepublic.net.