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Archive for the ‘Pheromones’ Category

Article taken from The Fruit Grower, written by Sue Jupe

Agrovista

30 January 2017

After three years of UK trials, BASF, working with Agrovista, has launched the first multi-pest pheromone disruption system, named RAK 3+4. Already commercially abailable in Europe, orchards are flooded with high rates of synthetic pheromones, and male moths become confused and give up trying to find a mate – mating is disrupted. With consumers being particularly wary of pesticide residues in fruit, this new approach to pest control in top-fruit offers real benefits for the control of challenging moth species.

Setting the scene, Simon Townsend of BASF said that, in line with other sectors of the industry, top fruit growers have lost valuable actives in the past 15 years following EC Regulation 1107/2009, changing the emphasis on plant protection products from a risk-based to a hazard-based system. Pest and disease challenges have been further compounded with growing biological resistance to some remaining actives.

Following approval through a mutual recognition label in Belgium, UK top fruit growers have a new IPM (integrated pest management) tool – RAK 3+4 – a mating disruption system for Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella) and Summer Fruit Tortrix (Adoxophyes orana). In addition, trials have produced observed efficacy against other Tortix species including Large Fruit Tree Tortix and Dark Fruit Tree Tortrix.

Adult Codling Moths emerge from cocoons in spring. Eggs laid on leaves and developing fruit hatch after a short time and the resulting larvae immediately bore into the fruit making control with insecticides difficult. As the moths directly damage the crop, the economic threshold is very low.

Importantly, in August or September there can be a partial second generation and, according to Agrovista’s Paul Bennett, this is particularly problematic as it necessitates insecticides being applied close to harvest. Whilst growers must adhere to strict harvest intervals, spraying at this stage has the potential for detectable residues to be found on the fruit, he warns.

Among the existing plant protection product options for Codling and Tortrix Moths are the ovicides Chlorantrantiliprole (Coragen) and Fenoxycarb (Insegar) and larvicides Spinosad (Tracer) and Methoxyfenozide (Runner).

How does it work?

As with all good IPM systems, the pest population should be monitored using an appropriate pest forecasting system or monitoring traps. “The new RAK 3+4 mating disruption system relies on the pheromones being in before the first target moths take flight in spring – around Arpil and before the end of the blossom,” explained Simon Townsend. “Designed to give season-long control, the pheromone cloud is released over nine months through to October.”

Simon went on to explain that in nature, female moths emit pheromones producing a concentration gradient which males travel down to locate a mate. “By releasing high rates of synthetic pheromones, male moths become confused and give up trying to locate a female. Mating is disrupted, no fertile eggs are laid and the population reduces,” he says.

With RAK 3+4, volatile female pheromone vapours are released from brown ampoules, each with two chambers – one containing Codling Moth pheromone the other Tortrix pheromone. By using multiple dispensers, a confusing cloud of pheromones is produced. BASF recommends that dispensers are used at a rate of 500 units/ha – at a uniform density of approximately one per 20 sq. metres. To prevent moths from adjacent areas encroaching into the treated orchard, and to maintain pheromone concentration at the edge of the treated area, additional product must be placed at the borders. BASF recommends doubling the dispenser rate at the edges of the treated area – such as orchard edges and along roads through orchards. “the dispensers should be hung in the top third of the tree, as the vapour is heavier than air, and at varying heights to achieve a ‘muddled’ vapour plune,” explained Simon Townsend. “The dispenser should be positioned so that it is clear of the body of the tree.”

To check efficacy during the season, pheromone monitoring traps (that attract male moths) should be installed in the treated orchards and checked weekly. If these traps no longer catch moths, this indicates that RAK 3+4 is working properly. However, it is always possible that mated females may enter the treated orchard from outside, and it is therefore important to check for fruit damage during the season. If the latest monitoring thresholds are exceeded, this is an indication that the moth population is too high, meaning that treatment with RAK pheromones alone may be insufficient. In this case, treatment with a conventional insecticide is necessary.

UK trials at Wisbech Contract Farming

Trials over several seasons at Wisbech Contract Farming in Norfolk have produced impressive results.

A modern progressive fruit farm, the highly uniform GPS-planted orchards employ modern post-and-wire hedgerow systems. Working closely with Paul Bennett of Agrovista, John Portass of Wisbech Contract Farming has trialled RAK 3+4 for the past three years on a total of 8ha.

The RAK 3+4 ampoules were distributed from a picking platform at the same time as workers carried out other operations, and took approximately 12 man-hours/ha. “In the first year of trials we selected an orchard with low moth pressure,” explained John. “The results gave us the confidence to extend the trial in the second year to a higher pest-pressure orchard. With no moths recovered in the traps we didn’t need to spray at all. We had extremely low level damage in fruit of just 1 or 2 per 1000 and as the season went on the moth population reduced.” In comparison, in untreated areas 60-70 codling-affected apples per 1000 fruit were recorded.

Summarising the results at the end of the third year of trials, Codling Moth numbers had been reduced by 95%, Summer Fruit Tortrix by over 89% and Fruit Tree Tortrix by over 99%. The economic thresholds were never exceeded and no caterpillar sprays were needed. Putting it in context, Paul Bennett said, “Using conventional pesticides the overwintering population tends to stay the same. Using 3+4 system the background population is reducing year-on-year.”

Impressed with the results, John Portass envisages rolling out the RAK 3+4 strategy to 60-70% of his 90ha in 2017. “We will be using it in high value varieties, such as the scab resistant Opal, but at this stage not the lower value Bramleys,” he says.

Commercial use in Europe

Mating disruption systems are already in commercial use in top fruit in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. It is estimated that 47% of top fruit in Belgium (7,000ha) currently uses mating disruption, with the RAK 3+4 system accounting for 20% and RAK 3 for a further 20%. While orchards receive a supplementary insecticide when required, or just around the outside rows, monitoring of 34 orchards in Wallonia showed 19 had used no additional insecticide.

According to Simon Townsend, pest pheromone disruption systems have been shown to work well in central Europe, withstanding extremes of temperature, and are already widespread in Germany in various crops, including vines. Trials in Belgium have shown that, compared to a reference orchard, RAK 3+4 delivers a major decrease in the number of males caught in traps and a significant decrease in infected fruit. The mating disruption system also showed a useful effect on many other species of Tortrix Moth including Fruit Tree Trotrix, Rose Trotrix an dMarbled Orchard Tortrix.

Simon Townsend is keen to point out that RAK 3+4 only controls specific moth species – Codling and Tortrix. It is therefore important that growers monitor for the occurence of these pests during the season, particularly at orchard borders. If thresholds are exceeded, BASF recommends that growers use a well-timed insecticide spray in addition to RAK 3+4. Under high pest pressure the level of control from RAK 3+4 can be reduced, making careful monitoring essential. “Growers should be mindful that using mating disruption does not rely on using any broad-spectrum insecticides, so new or past pest species may become a problem and will need to be controlled iwth appropriate IPM measures,” says Simon. “In some UK trials, there has been a resurgence of moth pests that have not previously been a problem (for example, Blastobasis sp). Other moth species not controlled that are potential pests in top-fruit include Spilonota sp and Epiphyas sp.

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New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/30/science/you-say-tomato-these-moths-say-dinner.html

Photo

People throwing tomatoes at one another during last year’s La Tomatina festival in Buñol, Spain. Credit Alberto Saiz/Associated Press

The streets of Buñol, Spain, will run red this week as 20,000 people hurl tomatoes at one another during La Tomatina, the world’s biggest food fight.

It’s a luxury that others envy.

Around the world, tomato crops are being ravaged by an invasive moth no larger than an eyelash. Originally from Chile, Tuta absoluta, also known as the tomato leaf miner, was introduced to Europe in 2006 via a container of infested tomatoes imported to Castellón, a Spanish province not far from Buñol. It spread throughout Europe, then to the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The toll is particularly devastating in developing countries, where many farmers can’t afford integrated pest management (I.P.M.), the multipronged approach that has proved most effective at keeping the moth at bay.

Earlier this year, officials in northern Nigeria, where tomatoes are a staple, declared a state of emergency in Kaduna State, a major producer of the country’s tomatoes. By May, the moth had destroyed more than 80 percent of tomato crops in Kaduna; the price for a large basket of tomatoes rose to $212, from just $1.50 to $7.50 before the shortage.

At the peak of the outbreak, a Nigerian website published an article about Spain’s tomatofest headlined: “La Tomatina: 17 tomato photos that will make Nigerians cry ‘where is our God?’

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Though the leaf miner’s range in Europe is extensive, from Spain to Lithuania, many farmers have kept the moth’s numbers under control with an arsenal of specialized tactics. These include pheromones that lure the moths into traps or disrupt their mating; biopesticides based on bacteria, fungi or oils; chemical pesticides that are highly selective; and the introduction of the leaf miner’s natural enemies.

The last measure has been extremely effective in Spain, said Alberto Urbaneja, a professor at the Valencian Institute of Agricultural Research and one of the first to research the Tuta absoluta invasion in Europe. “If you can establish a good I.P.M. system based on biological control, it is possible to manage Tuta,” he said.

In countries with low financial resources, farmers often don’t take action until the pest has moved in. When it does, farmers turn to the pesticides they have on hand, which typically kill a broad spectrum of pests.

These chemicals are environmentally harmful and eventually lead to pesticide-resistant bugs.

In some countries, the problem comes down to a lack of technical knowledge or government support. With funding from USAID, Muni Muniappan, the director of the IPM Innovation Lab based at Virginia Tech, has been running workshops around the world to help farmers prepare for the inevitable spread of the leaf miner, which also attacks such crops as potatoes, eggplants and peppers.

Meeting the pest head-on “requires lots of training and information,” Dr. Muniappan said. But his work is currently limited to seven countries in Africa and Asia, including Bangladesh and Nepal, where scientists successfully caught the start of a Tuta absoluta invasion earlier this summer.

Experts say it’s only a matter of time before the moth invades the remaining countries within its geographical limits, including the United States, where the Agriculture Department has been monitoring Tuta absoluta and regulating the import of tomatoes since 2009.

Photo

A Tuta absoluta larva on a tomato leaf. The moth, also known as the tomato leaf miner, can destroy entire crops. Credit Costas Metaxakis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The moths have a high reproductive capacity — each female produces up to 300 offspring in her lifetime — and they are small enough to be transported by wind, Dr. Urbanejo said. Their larvae devour tomato leaves, stems, fruits and flowers; uncontrolled, the pest can damage 100 percent of a crop.

Nevertheless, with the right combination of methods, countries should be able to keep the moth at manageable levels, Dr. Urbanejo said.

The problem is already showing signs of stabilizing in some African countries, including Kenya, where the moth was first detected in 2013. Farmers there are starting to use pheromone lures and adaptive practices like alternating tomatoes with other crops, said Fathiya Khamis, a scientist at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi.

At least one company in Kenya, Kenya Biologics, now sells pheromone traps locally, and Dr. Khamis’s team is looking into other options as well, like fungal biopesticides and specialized nets.

As farmers adopt more sustainable strategies, tomato lovers may ultimately have to adjust to higher prices. Still, the drastic price hikes that initially accompanied outbreaks have settled down. In Kenya, tomato prices rose to $1.25 a kilogram after the moth outbreak from just 60 cents. Now, prices hover around $1. Tomato prices are now just slightly above what they were before the outbreak in Nigeria as well, said Orode Doherty, a doctor who lives in Lagos.

As for La Tomatina, its organizers say it is not contributing to tomato shortages; 145 to 160 tons of wild tomatoes are grown in western Spain just for the festival. These tomatoes aren’t cultivated, harvested or processed as they would be for human consumption, said Miguel Sanfeliu, a representative at La Tomatina.

“It’s like growing trees to make confetti for a party,” he said.

Correction: August 30, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of countries in which Muni Muniappan has been running workshops to help farmers prepare for the inevitable spread of Tuta absoluta. It is seven, not six.

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California eradicates the European grapevine moth

Pest first discovered in Napa vineyard in 2009
  • Trap counts quickly surpassed 1,000 in Napa County alone
  • Pest eventually spread to other grape growing regions in California

California agriculture officials report the European grapevine moth (pictured) has been eradicated.

 

In what’s being heralded a  “success story,” California is officially eradicated of the European grapevine moth (EGVM).

The good news means the lifting of quarantine restrictions in several grape-growing regions throughout the state.

The EGVM was first detected in a Napa County Chardonnay vineyard in 2009, the first time ever the pest was discovered in North America. Subsequent detections in the counties of Fresno, Mendocino, Merced, Nevada, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin, Solano and Sonoma led to quarantine restrictions and a mass effort to determine pest numbers through trapping.

The last EGVM detection in California was June, 2014.

How the EGVM first wound up in Napa County remains a mystery.

“It is no easy feat to eradicate an invasive species, especially one like the European grapevine moth when it gains a foothold in a place as hospitable as California’s prime wine grape growing region,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Napa Valley wine grape grower Steven Moulds calls the eradication “a hard-fought victory.”

EGVM numbers quickly rose, particularly in Napa County, where trap counts in 2010 exceeded 100,000 moths from 3,800 traps blanketing the county. Quick collaboration between local agricultural officials, state and federal government agencies, and a group of international researchers including University of California wine grape specialists, helped identify the problem and recommend a course of action leading to eradication.

The EGVM, or Lobesia botrana, originates from southern Europe.

First and second generation insects feed on grape flowers and developing berries. By the third generation, larvae can cause great damage by feeding on grape berries, contaminating the fruit and exposing it to Botrytis and other infections.

Over the years, growers in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere outside of the Napa and Sonoma wine regions were able to quickly eliminate moth counts. As this happened, quarantines covering 2,334 square miles in 2013 fell to 446 square miles in 2014.

The Napa wine region took a mating disruption approach to eradication, while those in the San Joaquin Valley took a more direct approach by using labeled insecticides to kill the insect.

Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark credits the collaborative effort between all parties involved, from local growers and staff in his office, to local and international university researchers, to the state and federal government, with the success achieved.

At the end of the day, Clark says the success of the eradication efforts needs to be pinned on local efforts.

“Eradication of the EGVM is an important accomplishment in itself, but this program is perhaps even more valuable as an example of what we are capable of as a community,” Clark said.

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Southeast Farm Press

  • Soybeans were an effective trap crop, pheromone traps killed stink bugs in the trap crop, and buckwheat plants fed beneficial wasps that reduced stink bug numbers.
Agricultural Research Service

Cotton growers in the United States are concerned about native stink bugs that have attacked cotton and other crops for decades.

The green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris), southern green stink bug (Nezara viridula), and brown stink bug (Euschistus servus) continue to threaten cotton. But an Agricultural Research Service scientist in Georgia has found some environmentally friendly alternatives to insecticides.

“Cotton growers are increasingly interested in producing their crops in ways that have less impact on the environment,” says ARS entomologist Patricia Glynn Tillman, who is based in Tifton, Georgia.

The three native stink bugs are immune to the insect-killing toxins incorporated into most modern cotton varieties. Insecticides are effective, but they also kill the stink bug’s natural enemies, and they often require repeated use throughout the growing season. Organic growers can’t use conventional insecticides.

Stink bugs continue to pose a serious economic threat. Last year, they collectively infested roughly a million acres of cotton in Georgia alone, and growers there spent $12 million to control them. The bugs are a particular problem in the southeastern United States, where cotton is often grown alongside peanuts. Brown and southern green stink bugs develop in peanut fields and migrate into cotton. Green stink bugs move into cotton from nearby wooded areas.

Because of work by Tillman and others, some growers are planting “trap crops,” such as soybean and grain sorghum, to lure stink bugs away from cotton. Other options include pheromone-baited traps, which capture and kill stink bugs, and nectar-producing plants, such as milkweed and buckwheat, to feed native parasitoid wasps that attack stink bugs.

In previous work, Tillman showed the effectiveness of setting up plastic barriers between the cotton and peanut rows. Her recent study focused on whether combining a trap crop, a nectar-producing plant, and pheromone traps would control stink bugs where cotton and peanuts grow.

Tillman and her colleagues grew cotton and peanuts side by side for 2 years. In the first year, they planted soybeans as a trap crop (with and without pheromone traps), between the cotton and peanut plots. In other areas, they placed 6-foot-high plastic barriers between the plots.

In the second year of the study, they added nectar-producing buckwheat plants near the cotton. Each week of the May-to-October growing season, they counted stink bugs and stink bug eggs killed by wasps, and they documented damage to cotton bolls.

They found that the plastic barriers between peanut and cotton were the most effective tool, but the multipronged approach is an effective alternative if barriers are not feasible. Soybeans were an effective trap crop, pheromone traps killed stink bugs in the trap crop, and buckwheat plants fed beneficial wasps that reduced stink bug numbers.

“Protecting Cotton From Stink Bugs” was published in the July 2016 issue of AgResearch Magazine.

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  • Soybeans were an effective trap crop, pheromone traps killed stink bugs in the trap crop, and buckwheat plants fed beneficial wasps that reduced stink bug numbers.
Agricultural Research Service

Cotton growers in the United States are concerned about native stink bugs that have attacked cotton and other crops for decades.

The green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris), southern green stink bug (Nezara viridula), and brown stink bug (Euschistus servus) continue to threaten cotton. But an Agricultural Research Service scientist in Georgia has found some environmentally friendly alternatives to insecticides.

“Cotton growers are increasingly interested in producing their crops in ways that have less impact on the environment,” says ARS entomologist Patricia Glynn Tillman, who is based in Tifton, Georgia.

The three native stink bugs are immune to the insect-killing toxins incorporated into most modern cotton varieties. Insecticides are effective, but they also kill the stink bug’s natural enemies, and they often require repeated use throughout the growing season. Organic growers can’t use conventional insecticides.

Stink bugs continue to pose a serious economic threat. Last year, they collectively infested roughly a million acres of cotton in Georgia alone, and growers there spent $12 million to control them. The bugs are a particular problem in the southeastern United States, where cotton is often grown alongside peanuts. Brown and southern green stink bugs develop in peanut fields and migrate into cotton. Green stink bugs move into cotton from nearby wooded areas.

Because of work by Tillman and others, some growers are planting “trap crops,” such as soybean and grain sorghum, to lure stink bugs away from cotton. Other options include pheromone-baited traps, which capture and kill stink bugs, and nectar-producing plants, such as milkweed and buckwheat, to feed native parasitoid wasps that attack stink bugs.

In previous work, Tillman showed the effectiveness of setting up plastic barriers between the cotton and peanut rows. Her recent study focused on whether combining a trap crop, a nectar-producing plant, and pheromone traps would control stink bugs where cotton and peanuts grow.

Tillman and her colleagues grew cotton and peanuts side by side for 2 years. In the first year, they planted soybeans as a trap crop (with and without pheromone traps), between the cotton and peanut plots. In other areas, they placed 6-foot-high plastic barriers between the plots.

In the second year of the study, they added nectar-producing buckwheat plants near the cotton. Each week of the May-to-October growing season, they counted stink bugs and stink bug eggs killed by wasps, and they documented damage to cotton bolls.

They found that the plastic barriers between peanut and cotton were the most effective tool, but the multipronged approach is an effective alternative if barriers are not feasible. Soybeans were an effective trap crop, pheromone traps killed stink bugs in the trap crop, and buckwheat plants fed beneficial wasps that reduced stink bug numbers.

“Protecting Cotton From Stink Bugs” was published in the July 2016 issue of AgResearch Magazine.

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Quebec pilot project uses chemical emitted by female insects to stave off pests’ procreation

By Alison Northcott, CBC News Posted: May 17, 2016 5:20 PM ETLast Updated: May 17, 2016 5:20 PM ET

Stéphane Cataphard is among a growing number of Quebec apple growers turning to insect pheromones to stave off infestations and cutting back on harmful pesticides.

Stéphane Cataphard is among a growing number of Quebec apple growers turning to insect pheromones to stave off infestations and cutting back on harmful pesticides. (Jessica Rubinger/CBC)

Related stories

Stéphane Cataphard, an apple producer in Quebec’s lower Laurentians, used to spray his orchards with insecticides to protect the fruit from the codling moth five, even six, times a year.

But not any more.

Codling moth larvae

The codling moth’s larvae burrow into untreated apples, damaging the fruit. (CBC)

“Last year we just sprayed once,” he said while sorting Macintosh apples at his warehouse in St-Joseph-du-Lac, 50 kilometres northwest of Montreal. “This year we hope to reduce it to zero.”

Cataphard is among a growing number of apple producers in the province turning to insect pheromones – the chemicals females emit to attract their mates – to protect their crops from infestation by the moth’s larvae, which burrow into apples and can ravage crops.

More growers signing on

The provincial government is backing the pilot project with financial incentives to apple growers, and that money is proving persuasive: Last year 30 growers tried the pheremone treatment. This year, there are 100.

‘It sexually frustrates the insects because they can’t find each other and mate.’ – Acadia University biology professor Kirk Hillier

“Since we reduce the pesticides, it’s beneficial for the environment, it’s beneficial for the workers in the orchards because they are less exposed to the pesticides,” said Maryline Courchesne, a consultant with the group Agropomme, which is encouraging producers to adopt the technology.

Courchesne has been visiting Quebec apple orchards, installing thin plastic rings containing pheromones onto tree branches, in a process called mating disruption, to target the codling moth.

Codling moth

Pheromones released into apple orchards act as ‘mating disruptors,’ preventing the male codling moth from finding the female moth. (CBC)

“We will create a cloud of pheromone on top of the orchard so the male will not be able to find the female to mate and reproduce,” said Courchesne. 

Or, as Kirk Hillier, a biology professor at Acadia University in Wolfeville, N.S., puts it: “It sexually frustrates the insects because they can’t find each other and mate.”

‘Not actually killing anything’

Hillier has studied insect pheromones for years and says their use in pest control is growing.

“The real benefit is that this is not insecticidal at all, you’re not actually killing anything,” he said.

“Effectively you’re modifying the behaviour of the insect to prevent a second generation, the damaging generation, from coming along.”

Courchesne says one of the barriers is the cost of the pheromones.

Maryline Courchesne

Maryline Courchesne, a consultant with the group Agropomme, installs a thin plastic ring containing pheromones onto tree branches, in a process called mating disruption. (CBC)

 

They cost up to $500 per hectare –program, apple growers are eligible for up to $10,000 a year in  five times more than the insecticide for codling moth under the provincial subsidies.

Cataphard is convinced he may be able to save money in the long run, if he can further cut down on spraying.

Pheromones are also used in some orchards in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and British Columbia, and they’ve seen great success in outside of Canada, including in the state Washington and in Italy.

Hillier believes it will be adopted by an increasing number of producers.

“Over time, I think the market for these things is only going to grow, because of the greater need from the public to have chemical free fruits and vegetables,” Hillier said.

 

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CBC News/ Technology & Science

Sex chemicals confuse male insects into looking for love in all the wrong places

By Emily Chung, CBC News Posted: Jun 08, 2015 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Jun 09, 2015 11:55 AM ET

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/pheromones-offer-green-alternative-to-pesticide-sprays-1.3098862

ladybug-apple

Don’t like pesticides being sprayed on your fruit? Some farmers are now turning to the green alternative of pheromones, the alluring chemicals female insects use to attract males.

Pheromones are scent-like chemical signals used by many animals to communicate. For example, they’re emitted by a female moth, beetle or other insect as “come hither” calls to prospective suitors.

‘Insecticides, if they work, will produce flawless fruit. And it’s hard to compete with that.’— Kirk Hillier, Acadia University

By spraying pheromones into the air in orchards and vineyards, farmers can confuse male insects into thinking that females are calling from all directions. The males go looking for love in all the wrong places, while the females wait helplessly for their calls to be answered — and the star-crossed lovers never find one another.

Unable to mate, they don’t produce babies — offspring that take the form of worms in the fruit we eat.

Pollinators unharmed

Pheromones have a number of advantages. Insecticides don’t just kill pests, but also beneficial insects such as pollinators and pest-eating predators. Pheromones, on the other hand, are precisely targeted, because each insect species has its own chemically distinct pheromone.

Semios pheromone dispenser

Semios got approval from Health Canada in May for the first aerosol pheromone on the national market. Semios’s system detects moths, and automatically dispenses puffs of pheromone as needed. One dispenser is hung in each acre. (Semios)

That means a given pheromone can target just the single insect species that’s causing damage “while in no shape or form affecting any other moth around or any other insect for that matter,” says Michael Gilbert, CEO of Vancouver-based Semios, a company that makes high-tech automated systems for farms that dispense pheromones.

Nor do pheromones affect any other organisms, including humans. They can be used by both organic and conventional growers.

David Knight, owner of Knights Appleden apple orchard in Colborne, Ont., has used Semios’s system for the past two seasons as part of a regulatory trial. The system detects moths, and automatically dispenses pheromones as needed into the air as an aerosol spray. (It is not sprayed directly on the fruit). One dispenser is hung in each acre, and male insects are extremely sensitive, so only tiny amounts are needed — about two tablespoons per dispenser per year.

“It was fantastic for the simple fact that it is less costly than spraying [insecticides],” he said.

Insecticides aren’t just expensive to buy, but also time-consuming and labour-intensive to apply, Knight said. And because they’re toxic, workers can’t enter the orchard for a certain number of days after spraying.

Knight says fruit growers like himself — who rely heavily on pollinators to produce their fruit — are also keenly aware of the environmental risk posed by pesticides.

‘Great PR thing’

While apples are vulnerable to many pests that can’t be targeted with pheromones, including the apple maggot and fungal disease called apple scab, using the moth pheromones allowed Knight to eliminate one of three or four insecticide sprays per year from his orchard.

“It’s a great PR thing for a business to say, ‘This is what we’re doing — we’re actively reducing any chemicals we use,'” added Knight, who sells his apples to large supermarket chains such as Sobeys and Metro.

David Knight

David Knight, right, with his daughter Scarlett, left. Knight has used Semios’s system for the past two seasons as part of a regulatory trial. (Courtesy of David Knight)

Based on the results of the trial, Semios got approval from Health Canada in May for the first aerosol pheromone on the national market, one that targets the oriental fruit moth, an invasive species that can damage a wide range of fruits, including apples, pears, cherries, apricots and peaches.

Gilbert says most other pheromones on the market have been passive sources — similar to a potpourri jar as opposed to a spray — that are far more labour intensive to use, requiring hundreds of dispensers per acre.

Kirk Hillier, a biologist at Acadia University who studies how insects communicate with pheromones, says pheromones are most typically used as lures for traps. Those are often used to monitor pest levels in order to optimize the timing of pesticide sprays and eliminate unnecessary sprays, although they can sometimes also eliminate insects directly.

European gypsy moth caught in Surrey, B.C., in 2014

A European gypsy moth is shown caught in one of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s pheromone traps in Surrey, B.C., in 2014. Pheromones are mainly used as lures in traps. (B.C. Ministry of Forests)

He added that pheromones have been shown to be  effective at controlling a variety of agricultural pests, including the grapevine borer in Italy, the red palm weevil, and boll weevils that attack cotton. They’re also used in household traps for pests such as German cockroaches, and to monitor forestry pests such as the spruce budworm, gypsy moths and mountain pine beetles.

Niche market

Pheromones, Hillier said, are still a niche market compared to the global insecticide market, which was worth $58.8 billion US in 2014, according to the business intelligence firm Mordor Intelligence.

“Insecticides, if they work, will produce flawless fruit. And it’s hard to compete with that,” Hillier said.

Adult oriental fruit moth

This adult oriental fruit moth is an invasive species that can damage a wide range of fruits. ©Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2009 (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs)

Meanwhile, he added, “There are large chemical companies that back the use of pesticides, and they have a very vested interest in maintaining the status quo.”

Hillier is part of Green Insect Management Innovation and Knowledge, project in Atlantic Canada that aims to help bring more pest control pheromones to market.

Knight is one farmer who is already convinced of the value of pheromones. Following the trial, he decided to pay for a subscription to Semios’s system for part of his farm (he couldn’t afford it for all 240 hectares at once).

In addition to the pheromones, he also likes other “smart farm” features that come with the system, including sensors that measure temperature and moisture. They help predict the risk of other pests such as fire blight, helping reduce the amount of spraying required for those as well.

He thinks other farmers will soon follow suit.

“I could see this technology be completely mainstream in our industry in the next five or six years.”

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