NatureFresh Farms has found a unique way to deal with troublesome pests such as the pepper weevil (Anthonomus Eugenii), which can be difficult to manage with a regular Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system. Once the pest spreads, it is essentially a death sentence for crops such as tomatoes, 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 (which grows greenhouse tomatoes in Leamington, ON, and in Delta, OH), realized that there had to be a solution, and after looking around, he found one.
“Dogs are a very intelligent animal,” Lyons says. “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 a lot of research, NatureFresh 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. 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 to isolate any areas in order to mitigate risks.
“In order to continue to grow, it is essential to develop new strategies and look beyond conventional method,” says Peter Quiring, Owner and CEO of NatureFresh Farms. “We encourage our team to think outside the box and test any ideas they may have; no idea is considered too crazy.”
You can learn more about Chili here.