Commercial greenhouse growers in Mexico are using sniffer dogs as part of their Integrated Pest Management programs.

One of the world’s largest producers of peppers, which exports pesticide-free produce throughout North America, has turned to the technique to detect the small Pepper Weevil (Anthonomus eugenii) that affects plants in the Capsaicin family.

Despite fully enclosed, high-tech greenhouses designed for low-chemical crop management, the weevils still find their way in – so in January 2022, the farm employed Green Dog Pest Service Inc of Washington to train two Belgian Malinois to detect the odor of live Pepper Weevils.

“Our client has invested a significant amount into this program without much of a guarantee and we couldn’t be more excited about the results. We knew the dogs could detect the weevils, but in 15.5-acre greenhouses (6.3 hectares), with 200,000 or more plants growing over four meters tall, searching for tiny flying insects isn’t easy” said Deanna Sparks-Kjorlien, president of Green Dog Pest Service.

The dogs’ detection of weevils has enabled much more accurate monitoring of the greenhouses to prevent infestations taking hold – statistics suggest that the dogs are 70% more efficient at finding the weevils than humans.

Independent testing by the World Detection Dog Organization, using randomised, double-blind methodology requiring the canine teams to search approximately 500 meters of bell pepper plants, growing at two meters in height, for small vials containing the weevils, in under 20 minutes, resulted in no missed vials and no false alerts. “We knew the teams were ready to test and they were already proven successful in the field, but to have an independent testing organization, set up the most difficult form of testing and have the teams pass so easily was rewarding,” said Ms Sparks-Kjorlien.

Green Dog has been providing canine scent detection services for nine years and has additional agricultural applications beyond the pepper weevil. Ms Sparks-Kjorlien added: “We are starting a multi-species aphid detection program in Canada at a cannabis farm and we are looking into a root disease issue that effects hydroponic commercial growers that we believe will be an excellent application for the dogs. Using the power of canine scent detection, especially within CEA vertical farming, will be a game changer for IPM programs."