(April 6, 5:40 p.m.) A Florida congressman is requesting federal help to fight a tiny beetle that can kill avocado trees.

The exotic redbay ambrosia beetle spreads a fungus that causes laurel wilt disease. The disease has killed redbay trees — closely related to avocado trees — throughout the southeastern U.S. Scientists fear the disease could wipe out half the state’s avocado crop.

Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., sent a letter on March 27 to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, seeking immediate help to stem the pest’s spread south.

Putnam requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restrict interstate shipments of redbay wood and plants that host the beetle.

The letter, co-signed by a dozen other Florida Republican and Democratic representatives and senators, also urges the secretary to use tools provided in the 2008 farm bill for disease detection and eradication.

Without swift USDA action, the disease could destroy Florida’s avocado industry, Putnam and other lawmakers wrote in the letter.

While preliminary research has started to halt the spread of the disease, the lawmakers said the USDA needs to take more steps to protect the industry.

“The disease has spread quickly in our state and has been found recently only 70 miles from the heart of Florida’s avocado production region,” the lawmakers wrote.