Only Drones and Dogs Can Save Our Avocados Now

We will be delivered from the avopocalypse, and it will be in the form of flying robots and German Shepherds. Yes, drones and dogs are the soldiers who are hitting the battlefields—in tandem—to save your guacamole.

|
Apr 29 2015, 9:30pm

Avocados are a precious commodity. Without them, our burritos are harsh and lonely; our chips sigh; our seven-layer dip has but six layers. And the past few months have only been filled with somber—or at the very least, confusing—news about the future of our guacamole supply. The California drought has led to widespread concerns about the avocado's water-guzzling tendencies (a single pound of avocados requires about 72 gallons of water to produce), as have equally grim concerns surrounding Mexico's and Chile's supplies. Rumors abound that Chipotle could potentially discontinue its guacamole service, while some doomsayers have foretold the looming "end of the avocado."

On top of that dismal news, our appetite for avocados (and of course, their seasoned and mashed form—guacamole) has increased five-fold since 1999, rendering the "realness" of the situation at a critical point. Is a life without guacamole even imaginable?

Thankfully, we may not have to find out. One of the biggest concerns among avocado-hoarders is the ambrosia beetle, an adorable but dickish little insect that spreads a fungal disease known as laurel wilt. The wilt has been killing hundreds of millions of avocado trees in Florida, to such a frightening degree that Jonathan Crane, a researcher at the University of Florida, recently told the Associated Press that the fungus is "the biggest threat to the Florida avocado industry that has ever been seen." And if it makes it to Texas and already-imperiled California: game over.

But we will be delivered, and it will be in the form of flying robots and German Shepherds. Yes, drones and dogs are the soldiers who are hitting the battlefields—in tandem—to save your guacamole.

According to the Associated Press, researchers from the University of Florida have been putting the dog-drone team of terror to work by implementing a two-part system that allows scientists to better find and wipe out the beetles and fungus. First, the drones capture spectral images that are able to identify trees that are afflicted with the deadly beetle/fungus combo. Then, the dogs are sent to use their masterful schnozzes to find the exact location of the fungal growth so that the fungus can be exterminated before spreading and the tree can be treated back to good health.

Although the University of Florida's novel system has been effective, it's still only being used on a small scale. But the development could have big implications for the industry.

Although California is the nation's top avocado-producing state, Florida's avocado industry is nothing to scoff at, bringing in about $30 million annually putting it in second place below its thirsty West Coast counterpart.

The mixed messages continue. Conflicting articles about the severity of the avocado shortage appear almost daily, with opposing claims last week that "No, the US is not on the brink of an avocado shortage" alongside FOX San Antonio's rather incredible headline, "A Guacalypse is coming."

California's drought has little relief on the immediate horizon, but if we can save Florida using drones and dogs, we just might be able to assuage the fear that our children won't have the option of a dollop of guac in their burritos.