Sunday, March 6, 2016

Dogs Trained to Detect Citrus Greening


Mira’s nose is so sensitive that she can smell sick citrus trees, and U.S. orange growers are hoping her super sniffer will help combat one of the biggest threats ever to their crop.
The government has trained 10 dogs including Mira -- a 32-month-old German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix -- to identify a bacteria that has been killing citrus trees for a decade in Florida, the biggest domestic producer. Similar to canine teams that sniff out bombs, drugs and even bed bugs, this one is on the hunt for a disease known as citrus greening. There’s no cure, but growers hope the animals will give them more time to find one by slowing the contagion.
Florida’s orange harvest is forecast to reach a 52-year low this season, down 71 percent since 2004 as tiny bugs called Asian citrus psyllids spread the bacteria. It cost the citrus industry $7.8 billion and 7,500 jobs since 2006. Dogs, with 50 times more scent receptors in their noses than humans, sense chemicals that trees emit when infected. They’re accurate 99.7 percent of the time -- better than laboratory tests -- and identify diseased trees before symptoms appear....
Florida is expected to harvest 69 million boxes of oranges this season, or 56 percent of domestic production, and the state is the top grower of grapefruit, USDA data show. Each box weighs 90 pounds. California will supply 52.5 million boxes of oranges, and is the dominant supplier of tangerines and lemons. Texas ranks second in grapefruit.
Since 2005, when the disease was first found in the U.S. in Miami-Dade County, 15 states or territories have been placed under full or partial quarantine for the presence of the Asian citrus psyllid.
The bugs, which transmit the bacteria, reproduce rapidly and can fly a mile without pause, making them especially difficult to contain or kill. Researchers are still trying to understand how psyllid populations reduced by pesticides still manage to recover and spread the disease, said Robert Shatters, research molecular biologist for the USDA Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Florida. While the disease exists in other countries like Brazil, the world’s biggest orange grower, the flat landscape and close proximity of farms in Florida make it particularly susceptible to contamination....
Already, about 75 percent of Florida’s groves are infected. The USDA is planning to dispatch most of the new canine unit to California, Arizona and Texas, where the disease is less widespread and early detection could be used more broadly, Dixon said.
“There is such a grave concern in areas where this disease does not exist that people want to know if it is there,” said Tim Gottwald, research leader and plant pathologist at the USDA.
I think we will see crippling diseases in other areas of industrial agriculture going forward.  Hopefully, I am wrong.

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