Meet Chili, NatureFresh Farms’ Pest-Detecting Canine

Meet Chili, NatureFresh Farms’ Pest-Detecting Canine

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Chili is a Belgian Shepherd specifically trained to detect the scent of pepper weevil. Photos by NatureFresh Farms.

Chili, a pest-detecting canine, is the newest addition to the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) team at NatureFresh Farms in Leamington, ON. While she is an unconventional member of the team, her work has been invaluable to our operation and could have a future impact on the industry as a whole.

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Chili is a two-year-old Belgian Shepherd that is registered with the American Working Dog Association as a service dog. She is the only dog in the world specifically trained to detect the scent of pepper weevil. We introduced Chili to our team in the spring of 2017 after the greenhouse industry experienced major issues with pepper weevil during the previous year. The pepper weevil is an invasive species that is resistant to typical pest control measures used in our North American greenhouses, so we brought in Chili to help our team gather information on how to combat this pest.

No Idea is a Bad Idea

The idea for Chili came when we found ourselves in a desperate situation, and we had exhausted all other possible options for pest control. We needed to think differently about this issue, so we were encouraged to think outside of the box and even take silly ideas seriously. I started doing some research and stumbled upon the idea of service dogs. I delved further into this idea, and the rest is history.

How Chili Finds a Needle in a Haystack

One of Chili’s most important jobs has been to conduct perimeter checks. Pepper weevil is a highly elusive pest. We needed to gather more information about the weevil’s point of entry.

After conducting perimeter checks with Chili last year, we determined that the pepper weevil is not found on the ground or in the grass directly surrounding our greenhouses. This means that we do not need to put resources toward more pest entrapment on the perimeter. Chili’s specific skill set allowed us to make a more informed decision about what preventative measures to put in place.

Another important job that Chili performs is vehicle checks. In this industry, many vehicles drive between greenhouses and can serve as literal vehicles for pest transfer between different farm operations. Chili can search vehicles and detect whether or not pepper weevil insects have latched on to them. If Chili finds pepper weevil during vehicle checks this coming season, we may need to look at modifying how we conduct farm visits in the future.

Chili is also an essential part of clean-out season. Once we clear plants out of the greenhouse, bugs like the pepper weevil feel threatened and hide. In addition, their food source is taken away, and the temperature inside the building drops. All of these factors cause the insect to hibernate, providing us with the perfect opportunity to bring Chili into the greenhouse and search for weevils to find their tricky hiding spots. If even one mated female survives the crop change, it could lead to crop loss by early summer. This means that clean-out season is the one opportunity our team has to find the needle in the haystack.

Chili’s Most Important Role at NatureFresh

Chili’s most important role is to provide us with new information about a highly destructive pest. With this new information, we are able to make more informed decisions regarding effective pest management. We know that what Chili does for the IPM department will allow our company to grow and produce food more efficiently and safely in the future. This is what makes Chili an incredibly valuable asset for our team.