Cam Lyons, research and development and integrated pest management technician at NatureFresh Farms, Tina Heide, an IPM scout for NatureFresh, and working dog Chili work to keep pepper weevils out of NatureFresh greenhouses.
Man’s best friend is proving to be a worthy ally in the fight against a tough greenhouse pest.
Leamington, Ont.-based NatureFresh Farms is using a female Belgian Shepherd named Chili to help detect the presence of pepper weevils at the company’s greenhouses.
Pepper weevils cannot be seen by the human eye, which makes it a tough bug to contain with an integrated pest management program, according to a news release. No beneficial bugs are strong enough to combat the pest and sprays only irritate it and push it to reproduce more, according to the release.
An outbreak of the pepper weevil in the fall of 2016 left growers worried. Cam Lyons, research and development and IPM technician at NatureFresh Farms, came up with the idea to use a dog to help detect the pest.
“Dogs are a very intelligent animal,” Lyons said in the release. “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.”
After considerable research, NatureFresh Farms adopted Chili, who was bred as a working dog.
After eight weeks of training, Chili was certified by The American Working Dog Association — the first dog certified for pest-related scent detection on a farm, according to the association.
Tina Heide, an IPM scout for NatureFresh and Chili’s handler, takes the dog around the perimeters of the greenhouses, main aisle ways, inside trucks, pallets and near packing lines.
When Chili detects the scent of Pepper weevil she will sit and stare at the location of concern, according to the release.
Because NatureFresh doesn’t have pepper weevil at this time, Chili is kept sharp by detecting the pest in plastic containers that Heide places in various parts of the greenhouse. Chili always finds where the containers.
“For Chili it’s like a game of hide and seek,” Heide said in the release. “While she’s out there working, it’s actually a game for her and she’s loving it.”
Using Chili to detect the pepper weevil is proving to be a success, according to Peter Quiring, owner and CEO of NatureFresh Farms.
“In order to continue to grow it is essential to develop new strategies and look beyond conventional methods,” he said in the release. “We encourage our team to think outside the box and test any ideas they may have; no idea is considered too crazy.”