New pest management tool for Okanagan fruit growers

A new web-based tool has the potential to give Okanagan tree fruit growers an edge on pest management.

New pest management tool for Okanagan fruit growers

A new web-based tool has the potential to give Okanagan tree fruit growers an edge on pest management.

Times have changed since the best way for growers to control pests was spraying with wide-spectrum pesticides. And the targeted options now available are getting a boost from a new tool helping growers plan the optimum time to apply.

The new decision aid system (DAS), developed by Washington State University and adapted for use in B.C., is designed to give growers time-sensitive information using real-time, local weather data and scientific pest and disease management information to help predict and manage pests and diseases.

Typically, growers are  looking at the current situation on their farm. They are not projecting what will this pest be doing in 10 days time,” said Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association. They are planning ahead, explained Lucas, but the new tool will allow growers to develop detailed schedules.

It’s not all about spraying chemicals to knock out pests. Lucas explains there are now more targeted control options available: chemical, but also biological and cultural, as in the Sterile Insect Release program or bacteria that affect a particular pest. Cultural might be as simple as not watering at a certain time to reduce the spread of spores from a disease.

The new methods and products are much safer and have less environmental impact, but may only affect one pest, or even just a portion of the pest’s lifecycle. There’s a danger, Lucas said, that growers might miss the proper timing.

“Timing is so much more critical now, and this model will allow us to plan ahead for that timing, instead of reacting the day of,” said Lucas.

DAS was designed to be used by growers and has a clear, simple on-line interface that provides information linking weather conditions with pest life cycles and treatment information and alerts. It is programmed for conventional and organic management recommendations, allowing growers to choose the treatments that are right for their operation. The system has been used in Washington State for nearly a decade, and is highly valued by those growers.

According to surveys conducted in Washington, growers estimate DAS saves them about $185 per hectare, an estimated value of $16 million per year, overall. The estimated cost of running DAS since it was introduced in 2007 is about $1 million.

“This is the Cadillac of pest management decision support systems: tried, tested, and loved by Washington growers because it saves them time and money and improves the efficacy of pest management,” says Melissa Tesche, acting general manager for the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program. “The benefits to the Okanagan will extend beyond the growers.”

Funding to adapt the Decision Aid System to the Okanagan is part of a $300,000 investment in the implementation of the Okanagan Regional Adaptation Strategy by the federal and provincial governments through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. Climate adaptation programming reflects the BC Ministry of Agriculture’s ongoing commitment to climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, while enhancing sustainability, growth, and competitiveness. These investments help achieve the federal government’s goal to encourage the agriculture and agri-food sector’s leadership in job creation and innovation.