Meet agriculture’s new best friend

National

WASHINGTON (WLNS) – The United States Department of Agriculture has a new best friend for detecting invasive pests or diseases on plants.

The highly trained detector dogs can work with pest survey specialists during a pest or disease outbreak to speed up efforts in plant protection and quarantine.

The dogs can also sniff out shipments at ports to detect traces of insect larvae or plant disease.

“Scientists must isolate the specific pest and disease scents needed to teach the dogs a target pest or disease’s distinguishing odor,” explains Mark Dagro, Associate Director of PPQ’S Professional Development Center. “Looking ahead, additional pilot studies could target the Asian longhorned beetle, exotic fruit flies, coconut rhinoceros beetle, and spotted lantern fly.”

USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine or PPQ pilot studies show the dogs sniffed out 90 percent of Mediterranean fruit fly larvae in a controlled environment. The dogs also had a response time of less than 7 minutes in searching 100 pieces of fruit and identifying the three Medfly-infested fruits.

In Hawaii, the dogs had a 90 percent success rate in detecting for the palm-killing coconut rhinoceros beetle or CRB living in two to 10 inches of mulch. The dogs could also confirm that mulch piles were CRB-free in half the time it takes a four-person survey crew.

During training exercises in Florida, dogs found citrus canker disease more than 99 percent of the time.

Also in Florida, pest-detecting canines are being used to sniff out the last giant African snails in Miami-Dade County. These snails are one of the most damaging in the world. They can eat at least 500 types of plants and carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans. The giant African snails also produce about 1,200 eggs each year. The dogs have become an essential tool in detecting any remaining snails.

For decades, PPQ has been training canines to sniff out prohibited or restricted agricultural imports such as fruits, vegetables, and certain meat products. In 2016, PPQ trained 67 dogs and 91 canine handlers for use by PPQ, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, State departments of agriculture, county agricultural commissioner’s offices, and foreign agriculture ministries.

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