Overlord of the flies

One of the inherent difficulties in politics as we know it is that one man’s boon is another man’s boondoggle, that “roads to nowhere” might actually go somewhere, possibly even somewhere worth going.

Set the controls for the spring of 2008, and here’s what we find:

A conservative fiscal watchdog group recently gave Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena [CA], the “French Kiss Off Award” for sending $211,000 to France to study an agricultural pest.

The mock honor came from Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste, which publishes an annual compendium of what the group considers pork barrel legislation.

Thompson defended his earmark:

“The Olive Fruit Fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries,” he said. “I secured $748,000 for olive fruit fly research and irradiation in the (fiscal year 2008) appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will use some of that funding for their research facility in France. This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the Olive Fruit Fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s. This is not uncommon; the USDA has several international research facilities throughout the world, including Australia, China and Argentina.”

And in olive-growing portions of California, Bactrocera oleae is indeed a threat:

From what I’m hearing around the Valley, this past Fall’s crop was particularly hard hit. Ours certainly was. We didn’t have a large crop as it was, since our trees seem to be on an every other year boom and bust cycle. One year we’ll have just enough olives for brining for our own use, the next year we’ll be hauling bin after bin down to the Community Press. Still, what we had this year — apparently every single olive on every single tree — was crawling with Olive Fruit Fly larvae.

Still, they hit on a solution that didn’t require a government grant:

Seems the one thing these little critters like better than olives is torula yeast. Don’t look for this in your local health food store. One article calls it “a questionable taste additive”. Apparently, it’s put in cheaper processed foods and dog chow to enhance the flavor. Although, having smelled it, I’m not sure who would find it palatable unless you like a gamey, meaty, yeasty flavor.

But, as I said, the Olive Fruit Fly loves it. And if you buy a load of $15 ball traps and bait them with the pellets, you can wipe out most, if not all of your invading flies. Or you can save the $15 per tree for the traps and do what John did. Collect as many old plastic water bottles as you can find, punch holes in them, drop in a torula yeast tablet apiece and string one from each of your olive trees.

A wholly admirable, and mostly organic — and I suppose you could recycle those old plastic water bottles — solution to a difficult problem. Whether the USDA, in Paris or otherwise, would have figured this out, I couldn’t tell you; on the other hand, just because a given research project sounds amusing doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious.


  1. Lisa Paul »

    1 January 2012 · 7:35 pm

    You mean I should apply for a government grant for my efforts to clean the fruit fly out of my olive orchards? Or maybe petition Martha Stewart for some funding as the suspended yeasty bottles make nifty White Trash holiday ornaments.

  2. unimpressed »

    1 January 2012 · 8:38 pm

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” –Upton Sinclair

    This seems to be especially true when the program is government-funded.

    I’d think Citizens Unsupportive of Silly Spending would be a more appropriate acronym. :)

  3. ms anthrope »

    3 January 2012 · 12:00 pm

    wow! something actually very relevant to me. I have several acres of olives in California, and the problem with this fruit fly is the way the orchards are watered. If the farmers would let the surface dry out between waterings during the summer there would be less of a problem. But they believe that the crop is larger with the drip irrigation, thus more weeds, more pests, more excuses to spend other people’s money.

    If you want to freak out about government control in your life look into how much manipulation of our food production and cost the federal government does.

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