Oct 20, 2017
Hounding Pests in the Greenhouse

A pest outbreak in the fall of 2016 left all bell pepper growers in the Leamington area highly concerned. Pepper Weevil (Anthonomus Eugenii) is an unconventional pest that a regular Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system cannot maintain and cannot be spotted by humans which makes it nearly impossible to catch early on. Once the pest spreads, it is essentially a death sentence for the crop as no beneficial bug is strong enough to combat it and sprays just irritate the pest forcing it to reproduce more.

Cam Lyons, research and development and IPM technician at NatureFresh Farms, realized that there had to be a solution and conducted countless development sessions.

“Dogs are a very intelligent animal. Many worker dogs are trained to recognize and discover scents associated with drugs or bombs, so it seemed possible to train a dog to recognize pepper weevil,” Lyons said.

Chili is a 15-month old female Belgian Shepherd. Courtesy: NatureFresh

After research, NatureFresh Farms adopted Chili, a 15-month old female Belgian Shepherd who was bred as a working dog. Chili underwent eight weeks of training and was certified by The American Working Dog Association, which verified that Chili was the first dog certified for pest-related scent detection on a farm. This certification also allows Chili to work in the farm without any food safety concern.

Chili works alongside Tina Heide, an IPM scout and her handler. The duo begin their days by searching the perimeters of the greenhouses, main aisle ways, inside trucks, pallets and near pack lines – and of course, Chili’s day is comprised of many breaks to ensure she doesn’t get too hot or tired. When Chili detects the scent of Pepper Weevil she will sit and stare at the location of concern.

This allows NatureFresh farms to isolate any areas of concern in order to mitigate risks. Since NatureFresh does not have Pepper Weevil at this time, Heide hides Pepper Weevil stored in plastic containers throughout the greenhouse and tasks Chili with finding them; which she always does.

“For Chili it’s like a game of hide and seek. While she’s out there working, it’s actually a game for her and she’s loving it” Heide explained.

“In order to continue to grow it is essential to develop new strategies and look beyond conventional methods. We encourage our team to think outside the box and test any ideas they may have; no idea is considered too crazy” explained Peter Quiring, owner and CEO. The novel idea of using a dog to prevent pest outbreaks is proving to be a success for NatureFresh.

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