A pest outbreak in the fall of 2016 left all bell pepper growers in the Leamington, Canada, 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. Once the pest spreads, it is essentially a death sentence for the crop.
That’s why Cam Lyons, research and development and IPM technician at NatureFresh Farms, Canada, 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,” says Lyons.
After a lot of research, NatureFresh Farms adopted Chili, a 15-month-old female Belgian Shepherd who was bred as a working dog. Chili underwent 8 weeks of training and was certified by The American Working Dog Association, Greenville, N.C., who 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. When Chili detects the scent of Pepper Weevil, she sits and stares at the location of concern. This allows NatureFresh Farms to isolate any areas of concern to mitigate risks.
“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,” says Heide.
“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,” says Peter Quiring, owner and CEO of NatureFresh Farms.