The sterile release program to combat Navel Orangeworm (NOW) has been moving along quicker than was initially expected. The process involves raising NOW in a rearing facility in Phoenix, Arizona and then transporting the sterilized moths to be released in California orchards to gauge the efficacy of the program.
“They’re sterilized so we hope that they mate and don’t produce any offspring and essentially, like we’ve done with Pink Bollworm, basically mate them out of existence,” said Western Agricultural Processors Association President and CEO Roger Isom. “The good news is this project is a lot further along than we thought we would be at this time. We’ve been able to rear many more moths than we thought.”
There had previously been concern about rearing enough moths to make a significant impact on NOW populations. “At this point last year, we were hoping to raise somewhere between 100,000 to 200,000 moths. Today we can do between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000, but the cartridge that we put these moths in can only hold 750,000, so that’s what we’re doing right now,” Isom noted.
The pilot program is taking place on approximately 2,000 acres in an isolated area of Kern County that is known to have issues with NOW. The moths are being released in primarily pistachio orchards with a few almond orchards included as well. If the sterile release program appears to be effective in addressing NOW, Isom noted that the next step would be expanding the project and evaluating better distribution methods.
A sterile release approach to pest management has been effective for pests such as Pink Bollworm, especially when combined with other management techniques. “It’s not the silver bullet, but it is a tool,” said Isom, “you’ve got to have really good sanitation, you’ve got to have mating disruption, you’ve got to have all the tools working together, but we’re optimistic,” Isom concluded.
Listen to Isom’s interview below.