Protecting California’s Luscious Dates

Commercial date palms in the Coachella Valley. ISCA photo by David Danelski.

Back in the 1990s, a locally produced PBS television show called “California’s Gold” hosted by an overly energetic Huell Howser raved about California’s date industry.

In the episode, Huell visited Coachella Valley some 130 miles east of Los Angeles, and he just couldn’t say enough about a local treat called the date shake. “It’s just so tasty and wonderful, you just got to get out here and try one,” Huell implored.

Decades before the Coachella Valley became better known for its annual rock music festival, this hot desert region next to the Salton Sea had established itself as the date growing capital of the nation, producing some 90 percent of the US date crop. The date industry remains strong, with growers favoring Medjool dates, which are three times larger, more caramel-like, and softer than any other date variety. Put one of these in a blender with milk and ice cream, and you’ll get shake to die for.

Unfortunately, a little bug called the carob moth likes dates just as much as we do. Its wormy larvae feed on the fruit in the commercial date palm groves, leaving the dates spoiled or destroyed. Growers have limited options because traditional contact insecticide sprays can leave harmful chemical residues on the dates.

ISCA biologist Jesse Saroli applies an environmentally friendly insect mating disruption formulation to a date palm tree. ISCA photo by David Danelski

ISCA Technologies, however, helps Coachella Valley date growers protect their crops with an environmentally friendly product called SPLAT EC-O. This innovation contains no insecticides. It instead slowly releases components of the naturally occurring sex pheromones that the female carob moths emit to attract the male moths for mating.

The overabundance of faux pheromone in the date groves makes it nearly impossible for boy moths to find the girls. So, the male and female moths fail to hookup. The wormy larvae never hatch. The date palm trees thrive. The harvest is bountiful.

And we all can enjoy a tasty date shake. Now, Huell is no longer with us, but I am sure he would approve of that.