NatureFresh sniffer dogs

NatureFresh Farms has come up with a novel way of controlling outbreaks of pests in its greenhouses. The Leamington, Ontario-based grower has adopted and trained a dog to sniff out pests that cannot be detected by conventional integrated pest management (IPM) systems.

Chili, a 15-month-old Belgian Shepherd, is the first dog to be certified for pest-related scent detection on a farm. She was adopted following a potentially catastrophic outbreak of pepper weevil last year.

Pepper weevil is an unconventional pest that cannot be controlled by a regular IPM system and cannot be spotted by humans, making it almost impossible to catch early on.

Once the pest spread, it is essentially a death sentence for the crop as no beneficial bug is strong enough to combat it and sprays just irritate the pest, forcing it to reproduce more.

“Many worker dogs are trained to recognise and discover scents associated with drugs or bombs, so it seemed possible to train a dog to recognise pepper weevil,” said Cam Lyons, NatureFresh’s R&D and IPM technician.

After a lot of research, the company adopted Chili, a working dog, who then underwent eight weeks of training before being certified by the American Working Dog Association.

Chili works alongside her handler, Tina Heide, searching greenhouses, trucks, pallets and packing lines.

Once she detects the scent of pepper weevil she will sit and stare at the location of concern. This allows the company to isolate any areas of concern in order to mitigate risks.

“In order to continue to grow it is essential to develop new strategies and look beyond conventional methods,” said owner and CEO Peter Quiring.

“We encourage our team to think outside the box and test any ideas they may have – no idea is considered too crazy.”