Saving avocado trees with drones and dogs

In Florida, a devastating disease threatens the nation’s nearly half-a-billion dollar avocado industry. That’s leading researchers to use extreme measures: drones and dogs…

The hunt for the deadly fungus begins in the air. A drone scans a seemingly healthy avocado grove and in just minutes, its multi-spectral camera spots trees in trouble.

Trees indicated in yellow or red may be infected by a fungus, carried by the microscopic ambrosia beetle that causes laurel wilt…

Once the drone has narrowed the search area, the dogs set to work. The fungus spreads through a tree’s interior and is invisible to the human eye, but the smell is inescapable to the sensitive noses of these trained dogs. They check every tree at risk and sit when the disease is detected…

Laurel wilt has killed an estimated 6,000 avocado trees in Florida in the last few years. The state is the second-largest avocado producer in the nation, and a $64 million industry is now at risk…

Scientists hope to stop the disease in Florida. One of their biggest fears is that it will spread to California, the country’s largest producer of avocados. For now, growers in Florida are hoping to get through this season, as they start harvesting groves in June.

Scary enough for me. I generally have an avocado every day.

In this neck of the prairie, I’m probably eating one from Mexico or California. In fact, we’ve already had some from California already.

Bank loses foreclosure case — still tries to collect from homeowners!


Joseph and Mary Romero in front of their home in ChimayoMarla Brose/Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe, New Mexico — Even though a Chimayó couple won a major New Mexico Supreme Court decision last year vacating foreclosure on their modest home, they later received letters saying they owed payments to the bank that foreclosed on the house.

That led to a judge here issuing an order…holding the Bank of New York and its loan servicing agent in contempt of court.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton wrote that the bank and Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC had violated her orders about communications with Joseph and Mary Romero, who fought for years to save their modest home before the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that they’d been burdened with an “unrepayable loan” during the housing boom whose end sent the country into economic recession.

“These communications continue to assert that the Romeros owe various sums to BONY (Bank of New York),” she wrote. “This is not the case. BONY has been determined to have no standing to bring the foreclosure suit and its claim has been dismissed. BONY’s and Ocwen’s continued communications for them to pay amounts they do not owe BONY have caused the Romeros anxiety and may well be a violation of the law in addition to being in violation of the Court’s (Singleton’s) Orders.”…

Singleton ordered the bank to pay the Romeros $2,823 to cover attorney fees for raising the issue and said further violations “may result in more severe sanctions.”…

The Romeros responded to a cold call solicitation in 2006 and refinanced their house with an inflated mortgage without the lender requiring proof of income or assets. They were soon behind on their payments – Joseph’s annual income was about $5,600 – and, in 2008, the Bank of New York filed for foreclosure.

The Romero’s lawyers maintained lenders had taken advantage of the Romeros limited education, using predatory practices to structure a loan to strip them of equity and with no regard for their ability to pay off the loan. The Supreme Court, in its decision last year, said, “A lender’s willful blindness to its responsibility to consider the true circumstances of its borrowers is unacceptable.”

This sort of crap sales technique was commonplace, essential to the causes of the Great Recession.

I recall waiting in a real estate sales office in 2006. I was there to consult on security matters for the firm. Waiting my turn, I witnessed the manager signing up a young couple who spoke little English. Only the husband was employed and he wasn’t making a whole boatload of money. Nevertheless they were signed up for a mortgage for 95% of the inflated price of their new home.

Before we sat down to business – after they left – I asked him casually how he was able to manage a sale like that. His reply was the law allowed it. He could fudge the income because proof wasn’t required. They were going to run the mortgage through a sleazy storefront finance company down in Albuquerque which, in turn would sell the paper to Countrywide Mortgage. No problem.

We all know what followed. The bubble constructed upon lies and deceit burst in December 2007. Countrywide was sold off to Bank of America. No one did any time.