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Yuma Date Organization Helps Fund Study To Combat Weevil

A dead Canary Islands date palm tree (left) killed by the South American palm weevil next to a healthy date palm in San Diego County, Calif.
(Photo courtesy Center for Invasive Species Research - UC Riverside)
A dead Canary Islands date palm tree (left) killed by the South American palm weevil next to a healthy date palm in San Diego County, Calif.

Farmers are on the lookout for a pest that could ruin dates in Arizona. And no it’s not on Tinder.

While there hasn't been a live date weevil found in Yuma yet, where Arizona's dates are grown, farmers there are battling the insect that could leave a mark on the growing industry.

The Arizona Department of Agriculture said it has 800 traps out to monitor for the insect, and found one dead weevil in 2015.

That hasn't stopped local growers from being as proactive as they can.

The weevil is a bug that can destroy the desert plant and was found in California six years ago, coming from Mexico.

Arizona State University food business researcher Carola Grebitus studied the local date market on a specialty crop grant. 

“The date industry in Arizona has been booming," Grebitus said. "We’ve seen a lot of growth in recent years, and I think there’s a lot of potential for the producers and also for the consumers.”

There is a major date producer in Yuma, called Bard Valley, helping fund a study to develop new pesticides for the weevil.

Grebitus studied consumer interest in Arizona-grown dates, and found they fetch a premium at market.

“I think it fares well because we are in the desert, right? When you think of date production you think of the desert, you think of palm trees because it’s coming mainly from the Middle East," she said. "So I think we can start marketing it as really coming from Arizona so it’s a domestic product.”

The weevil is considered a major threat to palm trees.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the latest information attributed to the Arizona Department of Agriculture concerning the date weevil in Yuma.

Casey Kuhn reports from KJZZ’s West Valley Bureau. She comes to Phoenix from the Midwest, where she graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism.Kuhn got her start in radio reporting in college at the community public radio station, WFHB. She volunteered there as a reporter and worked her way up to host the half-hour, daily news show. After graduating, she became a multimedia reporter at Bloomington's NPR/PBS station WFIU/WTIU, where she reported for and produced a weekly statewide news television show.Since moving to the Southwest, she’s discovered a passion for reporting on rural issues, agriculture and the diverse people who make up her community.Kuhn was born and raised in Cincinnati, where her parents instilled in her a love of baseball, dogs and good German beer. You’ll most likely find her around the Valley with a glass of prosecco in one hand and a graphic novel in the other.She finds the most compelling stories come from KJZZ’s listeners.