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Automated Insect Traps Aim to Simplify Pest Detection


Prototype of an automated pest trap. Photo: Bob Hoffmann/WSU.
Insect traps can be an orchardist’s best friend, giving early notice of emerging threats to fruit. But they can also be a management headache. That is why Vince Jones, a scientist at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, is cooperating with experts in other organizations on the development of an automated insect trap that can capture and identify insects and relay the data to managers.

The current technology for insect traps is simple and effective. Targeted insects are enticed with a lure, typically a pheromone or floral fragrance. Insects that enter the trap are caught on the sticky inner surface. By detecting the insects before they cause damage, tree fruit growers can decide when and where to apply the most effective pest control measures.

The drawbacks come in deploying and checking the traps. A large orchard should deploy one trap per 2.5 to 5 acres, and then each trap should be checked weekly to identify any pests inside. With some orchards exceeding 1,000 acres, this weekly inspection turns into a monumental challenge. Finding the traps in an expanse of nearly identical trees becomes a rural scavenger hunt. Personnel and vehicle costs pile up. Then the results need to be compiled. Due to these difficulties, orchardists might only use half of the recommended traps, unfortunately reducing the quantity of data collected and the ability to make sound decisions.

Jones and his collaborators have been working on an automated insect trap featuring an electrical grid, a Global Positioning System receiver, and a radio transmitter. The lures are the same as used in conventional traps. Once the insect enters the trap, though, everything is different. Instead of getting stuck on glue, the insect hits an electrical grid composed of vertical metal rods hanging in a circle around the bait. The electricity stuns the insect, which drops into a capture container. The size of the insect and other physical characteristics, such as whether it has scales, hairs or a smooth body, all affect the electrical properties of the grid at the moment of contact, allowing the system to identify the insect as, for instance, a codling moth or an obliquebanded leafroller.

The trap then transmits the identity of the insect, along with the date and time of capture and location of the trap, to a nearby base station. The base station transmits the orchard’s trap information to an online mapping system that orchardists can log into to review pest activity. In addition to detecting emerging threats, the system can also pinpoint problems with current management practices. An increase in pest numbers could, for instance, signal a problem with pheromone emitters, a commonly used tool in pest control.

One of the challenges in the current project is to reduce power requirements. The system currently needs large, expensive batteries to operate. Researchers are working to reduce power consumption by only charging the grid during hours when the target species are likely to be active. They hope to eventually use a standard D-cell battery, which would limit trap maintenance visits to twice per growing season. They are also trying to improve the algorithm that determines the type of insect captured. Development on the trap is expected to continue for at least another two years.

Collaborators on the project include Drs. Johnny Park, Henry Medeiros, Anderson Nishimoto, and German Holguin of Purdue University, Dr. Larry Hull, and Brian Lehman of Pennsylvania State University and Callie Baker and Teah Smith of Washington State University.

-Bob Hoffmann

For more information on Vince Jones’ research, see the Insect Ecology & Behavior Laboratory website at http://bit.ly/vincejones.

Breeding a Better Cherry

The little tree, as yet unnamed, looks very much like neighboring trees in cherry breeder Nnadozie Oraguzie’s research orchards near WSU's Research and Extension Center in Prosser. But the cherries it produced this season created a huge stir among visiting cherry growers.


Fast-tracked: A new cherry variety from WSU's cherry breeding program shows enough promise that it will be available to growers for trials by 2014. Photo: Nella Letizia/WSU.
The cherries are very firm and large without chemical inputs, making them particularly attractive because growers normally apply growth regulator gibberellic acid to achieve such quality. The fruit also passed the taste test, striking the right balance between sweet and tart.

While cherries on other trees showed cracks caused by rain, this tree’s fruit was unmarred, revealing an uncommon pre-harvest hardiness.

Finally, the new cultivar is “self-fertile,” meaning it can pollenate itself without the aid of bees or pollenizer trees. One of Oraguzie’s breeding objectives was to develop such a cultivar to reduce dependence on bee pollination and pollenizer varieties, as well as lower production costs.

All of these attributes together, especially in an early-season variety, means that Oraguzie will fast-track the cherry selection so that growers can evaluate it in their own commercial orchards much sooner than the typical process takes. Trees will be available for testing in 2014.

“To release a variety commercially can take 20 years,” Oraguzie said. Oraguzie explained that, “You don’t often get good early-season cherries commercially--they are generally not firm or large. Growers who can provide good early- and late-season cherries would capture a premium price in the market because no one else could compete.”

All Summer Long

Consumers are likely unaware of the choice of sweet cherry varieties they have today thanks to breeding programs like WSU’s. Those choices were nonexistent 50 years ago.

David Allan, of Allan Brothers, Inc, in Naches, recalls that when he started farming cherries in the mid-1960s, he produced Chinook, Bing, and Lambert. Chinook was an early-season variety, Lambert was harvested late in the season, and both were soft cherries, he said. Mid-season Bing’s marketing window was only about three weeks long.

The Pacific Northwest cherry industry now produces high quality cherries from mid-June through mid-August, Allan said. It's new cherry varieties that made this market expansion possible. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, the industry this year set a new record for the number of cherry shipments to market at 22.7 million boxes.

“The Northwest cherry industry is market-driven,” Allan said. “The market dictates that we give value to the consumer. Value to the consumer is a function of price and quality. As we improve quality with new cherry varieties, we increase value to the consumer and increase the demand for our product. The other objective of the breeding program is to develop new cherry varieties that extend the marketing season.”

Fourteen varieties have come out of WSU's cherry breeding program, Oraguzie said. With more WSU cherry selections in the pipeline, the benefits to the industry and consumers will only increase, Allan said. “The bottom line is if you give the market value (with big, firm, good-tasting cherries), it will pay you for your efforts,” he said.

Going Stemless

The WSU breeding program is now positioned to further the work it began 20 years ago by exploring the genetics of stem-free cherries for mechanical harvesting and continuing to breed disease-resistant varieties that reduce the industry’s environmental footprint and reliance on pesticides, said Denny Hayden, president of Hayden Farms in Pasco. He hopes growers will continue to support that ongoing research.

“We have all the resources in place, but we need the scientific knowledge to advance varieties,” Hayden said. “We need a great research institution like WSU behind us. If we want to continue to have a strong industry, we have to keep moving forward.”

—Nella Letizia

For more information on WSU's tree fruit breeding programs, please visit the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension website at http://bit.ly/efQFhR.

Help us Celebrate the Morrill Act's 150th Anniversary

Join us on September 22 for an all college tailgate reunion! Our CAHNRS & WSU Extension Homecoming Tailgate Reunion will bring together alumni, friends, faculty, staff and students for a day of music, Butch and the Spirit Squad, BBQ catering, and fun times catching up with new and old friends. This is a family-friendly event, so the more, the merrier!

That day, we are also celebrating the sesquicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Morrill Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of American agriculture. The act created the land-grant system and stipulated that these colleges emphasize teaching and research in the practical arts -- agriculture, science, and engineering. In doing so, the act served as the foundation for the democratization of higher education in America.

Plan to attend our pre-game tailgate BBQ and watch the new-look Cougars take on the Colorado Buffalos (sorry, football tickets for our CAHNRS block are no longer available). Tickets for our Homecoming Tailgate are only available until September 14, so get your now! Order tickets for our Tailgate Reunion here »

The CAHNRS Homecoming Celebration is sponsored by Northwest Farm Credit Services.

Read Dean Dan Bernardo's blog post about the Morrill Act »

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