When it comes to sterile insect release programs, the Okanagan is at the top of its game.
It’s a fact that may never get on a sexy tourism brochure. But this week it did bring in some high profile guests from around the U.S., Europe, China, Malaysia, Chile, Tunisia and South Africa, who are are on a fact-finding and information-sharing mission, said Glen Lucas of BC Tree Fruits.
Kelowna is hosting two dozen scientists who specialize in area-wide integrated pest management and sterile insect technology.
“This is an opportunity for them to learn a bit more about our codling moth program,” said Lucas, noting that the scientists each have their own area of study to compare and contrast against what’s happening in the Okanagan.
“By everyone talking about their own programs, knowledge flows from other programs and other pests.”
Although it rarely makes headlines for its damage causing ways these days, the codling moth was once a scourge to apple and pear orchards.
To get its populations under control, farmers applied numerous chemicals during the growing season.
The moth, however, had started to become immune to the effects of those chemicals while a growing tide of concern about pesticides started to put pressure on growers’ practices.
Cara Nelson, general manager of the SIR program, said the $7 million codling moth rearing and irradiation facility was built in Osoyoos 20 years ago with federal and provincial funding and the SIR program got underway.
The program has been such a success that its been rolled out in South Africa.
More locally, however, its success can be measured through the volume of pesticides no longer used.
On average, growers need only apply one-or-less spray per season against codling moth compared to three or more prior to 1991, said Nelson.
Data collected by the provincial environment ministry shows that the volume of pesticides formerly used per acre against the codling moth in the valley has dropped about 90 per cent since 1991 and there has been more than a 90 per cent reduction in the level of codling moths in the valley.
And going forward, the political climate is such that the program’s success could easily be transitioned into other areas.
“We have an area wide structure in place, that we could move to cherries or grapes,” said Nelson.
“As the climate changes and we have more and more invasive species coming to the area, using more and more pesticide won’t be sustainable into the future.”
There are opportunities to leverage the information that’s accumulated through the coddling moth program, and apply it to other pests, she said.
And, input from highly knowledgeable scientists from the international community is a major boon that Nelson isn’t letting pass by untapped.
A select group of scientists will remain behind to conduct an external review of the Okanagan SIR program and recommend a new strategic direction to its board. They may be able to address some of the conundrums the SIR board is currently struggling.
In particular, now that codling moth populations have dropped, there’s surplus moth-rearing capacity in the Osoyoos facility.
If it was closed, the pest could re-infest the entire area again, said Nelson.
To tap into its potential the SIR board is investigating a number of options for using the facility, including selling irradiated insects to other jurisdictions in the world.
The week-long visit is an official research coordination meeting on increasing the efficiency of Lepidoptera SIT by enhanced quality control, held by the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, Austria.