University of Florida

History of the Diaprepes Task Force

James B. Pratt, Sr.

Past Co-chair Diaprepes Task Force
101 Fairway Drive
Haines City, FL 33844

July 8th 1993, 9:30 a.m. - The Lake Alfred Citrus Research and Education Center was the place and time of the birth of the Diaprepes Task Force (D.T.F.). Dr. Walt Kender had called for the meeting, those present along with Dr. Kender were Dr. David Tucker, John Jackson, Tom Oswalt, and myself.

After a prolonged discussion, we all concurred that forming a task force would be the most advantageous approach to this most serious of problems facing Florida agriculture. Thus the battle against "The Evil Weevil", Diaprepes abbreviatus, was commenced. Connie Riherd, Assistant Director, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry (F.D.A.C.S., D.P.I.) and I were asked to serve as co-chairpersons, which we agreed to do.

Diaprepes was found in a nursery in 1964 in the Apopka area of Orange County, Florida. From there it has spread to all of the major citrus growing areas of Florida. Diaprepes also attacks a broad range of field and ornamental crops here in Florida. A five year all out effort by the F.D.A.C.S. and the U.S.D.A. to control and eradicate the weevil failed. To this very day we have only succeeded in suppressing, not controlling the weevil.

Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting John Jackson, one of Florida's most outstanding extension agents, will remember being greeted by his saying, "Diaprepes is still with us." That was John's way of reminding growers that this most serious problem was yet to be controlled. We all owe John a great deal of gratitude for keeping this problem in the forefront.

In the 1970's and 80's there was a great deal of research conducted by F.D.A.C.S., I.F.A.S., and U.S.D.A on controlling Diaprepes. They gained a great deal of knowledge about the weevil but could not bring it under economic control.

The weevil spread across Orange and Lake Counties and following the freezes of the 1970's and 80's, research slowed and it almost became a forgotten problem. During this period some research did continue and Dr. W. J. (Bill) Schroeder of the U.S.D.A. (Orlando) lead the way.

The weevil, fortunately for the growers, does not move very far on its own but unfortunately man unknowingly and unwillingly assists. As growers moved south to replant in warmer areas, they took the weevil with them. As the weevil became established in central and south Florida, the alarm bells sounded - D.T.F. to the rescue.

The D.T.F. established strategies and goals to achieve control of this most challenging of insects: (1) Make the growers and public more aware of the seriousness of the problem. (2) Estimate and secure adequate sources of funding to conduct research.

The citrus, ornamental, and sugarcane industries in Florida represent 1,331,742 acres of crops which provide a 12.2 billion-dollar input (1993) into the U.S. economy. Something needs to be done to solve the Diaprepes problem to protect these important industries and their 158,000 workers. Approximately 80% of the U.S. and 51% of the world's total citrus is produced in Florida. Florida is one of the nation's largest producers of ornamental nursery products - shrubs, trees, and bedding plants. Fifty-five percent of the nation's tropical foliage is produced in Florida. Sugarcane grown in Florida accounts for 51% of the total sucrose produced from cane in the U.S.

Solving the Diaprepes problem will be without question one of the most difficult projects ever undertaken by agricultural researchers. Finding the right solution for growers to profitably co-exist with the weevil will require a multifaceted strategy that challenges our research institutions in numerous ways.

On October 14, 1993 the organizational meeting of the D.T.F. was held at the Citrus REC in Lake Alfred, Florida. Subcommittees on research, education, sanitation, harvesting, regulatory, and conference were established at that time. All subcommittees were composed of a mixture of growers and scientists. The subcommittees are as follows:

  • Research was established to create and guide the research programs of the D.T.F.
  • Education was established to keep all interested parties informed of progress by the D.T.F.
  • Sanitation was established to create and set up guidelines for all of agriculture to follow to hopefully reduce the spread of Diaprepes.
  • Harvesting was established to assist the sanitation effort.
  • Regulatory was established to examine all existing state and federal rules that could be used to halt the movement of all Diaprepes infested materials.
  • Conference was established to organize a one time state-wide meeting to communicate the magnitude and devastating effect that Diaprepes was having on Florida's agricultural industries.

Our research committee has been the mainstay of the D.T.F. Dr. David Hall (of U.S. Sugar) was our first chairperson and Dr. Clay McCoy (of Citrus REC) is our present chairperson. Both of these gentlemen's outstanding performance has been appreciated by all, especially the growers.

I would like to see the D.T.F. publish a monthly newsletter to keep everyone informed.

The sanitation, harvesting, and regulatory committees were all committed to reduce and hopefully stop the spread of Diaprepes. The old traditional American psyche prevailed - regulate yawl but not usun's (translation: you but not me).

The lack of a good comprehensive SANITATION program over the years has cost the growers and taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. It's time we face up to this problem with a constructive and forceful program to save agriculture and tax dollars. The federal government and the U.S.D.A. must adapt a hard-nosed program with severe penalties to stop harmful and unwanted disease, insect pest, and plants from entering our country. Remember we should always grow and produce our food requirements within our own country, in case of war or natural disaster. The monies saved by a good sanitation program could be better utilized in research to produce better and more nutritional plants and animals to sustain people. The D.T.F.'s first concrete accomplishment was when Commissioner Bob Crawford (Commissioner of Agriculture) made a commitment to set up a system whereby growers could learn which nurseries were infected with Diaprepes before purchasing trees or plants. The D.P.I., under Richard Gaskalla's leadership, set up a phone number that growers could call and get this information. This procedure was placed in effect December 1, 1993.

Funding for adequate research was viewed as a major problem from the very first meeting of the D.T.F. We wrote our two senators and all members of the congressional delegation asking for their help in securing funding. We also wrote all state senators and members of the House of Representatives asking for their help. The responses were overwhelming and all positive.

As most of you know, I have stepped down as co-chairperson of the D.T.F. and Garvie Hall was elected to take my place. Needless to say I learned a lot while serving as your co-chairperson, made some new friends, and became re-acquainted with some old friends and former colleagues.

There is neither enough time nor paper for me to name all of the individuals and organizations that assisted and supported the D.T.F. in its mission.

All of Florida's agriculture should be thankful for the chief instigator of the Diaprepes problems, John Jackson. He keeps it on the front burner, lest we forget.

Dr. Walter J. Kender for having the foresight to activate the D.T.F. to tackle the Diaprepes problem.

In any organization like the D.T.F. there are always some individuals that stand out and I would like to acknowledge them for their services to the D.T.F.: Jim Griffiths, Larry Jackson, Peter McClure, Jim Simpson, Reginald Tisdale, and Nick Faryna.

As usual Connie Riherd's leadership and contribution to the D.T.F. was outstanding.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to serve as your co-chairperson.