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Better Alternative to Pesticides Found in Papaya Plant

Among the many hazards posed by insecticide use is that of evolutionary pest resistance. Eventually, Mother Nature outsmarts us again, creating what are often called, “super bugs”, that survive insecticide application. But it looks like the University of Florida has discovered a way to work with Ms. Nature. According to an article by Robert H. Wells in the University of Florida News, whiteflies- known for attacking tomato plants- can be controlled through natural means, with the help of the papaya.

Perhaps surprisingly, Florida is the country’s top producer of fresh tomatoes. Surprising because Florida’s growing conditions- its lack of soil nitrogen and moisture- make successful tomato agriculture difficult and vulnerable. Because Florida’s temperate conditions don’t kill off insects like the harsh New England winters do, growing tomato plants are susceptible to a number of pests.

For these reasons, Florida is a huge consumer of the country’s pesticides. According to an NPR interview with Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, Florida applies more than eight times the amount of pesticide and herbicides as does California, the next leading tomato grower in the country. “It’s the price we pay for insisting we have food out of season and not local,” says Estabrook.

Whiteflies, in particular, are a problem. They feed on tomato leaves and transmit diseases, including tomato yellow leaf curl virus. According to Wells, by introducing papaya plants with wasps into the greenhouse before any pest whiteflies are detected, the wasps act as sentries and attack any whiteflies that might become established in the crop.

For now the system is limited to Florida because papaya plants need tropical climates to grow. University of Florida researchers are already looking into other host plants that could be used by growers in other regions.

Read more from the University of Florida News:

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