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Funds will be used to ramp up the production of sterile NOW moths that has proved pivotal in using sterile insect technology to combat serious agricultural pests.

Logan Hawkes 1, Contributing Writer

January 15, 2020

3 Min Read
Eion Davis, left, and Earl Andress, rear navel orangeworm in the repurposed Phoenix facility once used to mass-rear the pink bollworm.Todd Fitchette

Expanded funding for a four-year old navel orangeworm research project using sterile insect technology (SIT) to help control significant damages the moth poses to western tree nuts has been approved, a move designed to elevate efforts to promote a more concentrated effort to reduce NOW problems in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

“The pistachio industry and other commodity groups have co-invested in the project for four years but federal funds have been insufficient to expand the program more widely to other agricultural regions of California’s San Joaquin Valley where NOW is a persistent problem,” American Pistachio Growers (APG) Executive Director Richard Matoian told Western Farm Press last month. “Should the funding expire, the affected industries would suffer significant losses. That’s why American Pistachio Growers took the lead in pressing for the new funds, working in concert with California’s tree nut industries and their representative organizations.”

President Donald Trump signed the $6 million federal spending bill Dec. 20 after repeated visits and conversations with tree nut industry groups leading three delegations of lobbyists, support members and members of California’s congressional delegation who emphasized the critical need to bolster NOW research.

“We led three delegations of APG members to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress and we had a strong, persistent government relations team in D.C. that guided this effort through,” said Jim Zion, Chair of the APG Government Policies & Partnerships Committee in a press release. “But this important advancement in the war against NOW would not have been achieved without our members of Congress who really made it happen.”

The funds will be used to ramp up the production of sterile NOW moths at an existing USDA facility in Phoenix, Arizona that has proved pivotal in using sterile insect technology to combat serious agricultural pests.

Over the last four years the NOW-SIT facility in Arizona has reared and produced sterile NOW moths under the direction of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for distribution by airplane over about 1900 acres of pistachio and almond orchards in Kern County.

Pink bollworm success

In pursuing sterile insect technology for NOW, ag groups hope to repeat the success that western cotton growers experienced in their battle against the pink bollworm. The same Phoenix facility that produced and distributed millions of sterile pink bollworm moths daily for five decades has successfully been converted over to producing sterile NOW.

The pilot program for NOW provides an opportunity to combine SIT approach with other consistently applied area-wide management measures across the program area as a cooperative effort by the agricultural industry, USDA, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Arizona Department of Agriculture. The operational elements of the program include mapping of almond and pistachio acreages and locations, intense monitoring, control using cultural practices, mating disruption with pheromones, carefully timed pesticide applications, and testing the additional benefits of sterile NOW moth releases.

“This program is aimed at NOW suppression. No single element of this Integrated Pest Management strategy alone has the capability to arrest and reverse pest populations,” said Richard Matoian.

“But adding the sterile moth technology to the IPM toolbox, and making it more widely available to growers, is a quantum leap forward to helping us accelerate the war on this serious pest.”

For more news on tree nuts as reported by growers and farm advisors, subscribe to the Tree Nut Farm Press e-newsletter.

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