Can a Supercomputer Save Florida’s Avocados?

Nov 24, 2020

Florida’s avocado growers are in a pickle.

The $35 million-a-year crop is under siege from laurel wilt disease, a vascular infection seeking to create supply havoc.

How we got here: Spread via redbay ambrosia beetles that hide in places like firewood, the crop killer is doing some serious damage. In Miami-Dade county, where most of the Florida crop resides, it’s not hard to spot the fungus overtaking the large evergreen plants.

The evidence?

  • Toothpicky tubes or granular sawdust piles on the bark
  • Red or purple discoloration on sagging foliage
  • Blackish sapwood surface

It ain’t pretty.

The infamous disease even has the public circulating a ‘Save the Guac’ campaign in South Florida. That’s dedication.

So what’s an avocado farmer to do?

Well, the state has looked to the University of Florida and its supercomputer, HiPerGator, for answers.

HiPerGator is known to synthesize astronomical amounts of data for insights. Its resume includes everything from advancing Alzheimer’s research to gauging how the English language is evolving due to social media.

Its next assignment: HiPerGator will analyze satellite-images of avocado crops and implement machine learning to help decision makers determine the best management practices to control the spread of laurel wilt.

The ultimate goal: Build a decision support app that policy makers can use to cess out how subsidies or penalties for disease management would play out in real life. Forecasting if growers make better or worse decisions that help or hurt the spread will be vital.

Bottom line: 80% of Florida avocados are sold to non-Florida customers, lending itself to an annual economic impact of $100 million. HiPerGator and the Sunshine State need to move at hyper-speed to not risk that avocado payday.