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Detecting a fly’s DNA in fruit is key to reducing crops destroyed by the pest

Quick and accurate identification is one way fruit growers can stay ahead of Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD). The pest, which the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has been tracking since 2011, affects berry crops and caused significant losses in cherries in 2017. Its impact on other Ontario stone fruit and grapes isn’t yet known.

SWD can penetrate the skin of healthy fruit to lay eggs inside, where the larvae develop and promote rot – and often growers can’t see the problem until it’s too late to save the crop. That’s why field monitoring is important, but the current method is a lengthy, time-consuming process.

Now, researchers are working on a new molecular method to identify and quantify SWD through the fly’s DNA, with the goal of improving the speed and accuracy of pest detection.

“Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership our government is helping the sector continue to innovate, grow and prosper,” said Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Improving pest management methods is important for Ontario fruit growers as well as for all sectors of agriculture and we are pleased to invest in collaborative agricultural science that directly addresses on-farm challenges.”

The Niagara Peninsula Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, in collaboration with Ontario Tender Fruit, has accessed funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to develop and validate this technology.

A network of pest traps across the province will support validation of the new identification method.

“Our government is pleased to help make promising collaborations like this come about. This innovative project could make a real difference in how farmers deal with this damaging pest,” said Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ernie Hardeman.

Through the Partnership, the project is eligible for funding in excess of $80,000.

“The idea is that eventually this will be a service where growers can do their own monitoring and send samples into the University of Guelph pest diagnostic clinic for analysis,” explains Dr. Wendy McFadden-Smith, OMAFRA horticulture integrated pest management specialist.

The project is also evaluating whether both current and test varieties of plums, peaches, nectarines and grapes are susceptible to SWD, which will help growers with pest management in orchards and vineyards.

“Funding from the Partnership is invaluable to the industry as neither grower organization has the resources to carry out this work on our own,” says Sarah Marshall, General Manager of Ontario Tender Fruit. “Being able to monitor our orchards for emerging pests and diseases is absolutely critical to the future of our sector and our growers take pride in being able to produce healthy, safe fruit for consumers.”

For more information:
Laura Feil
Agricultural Adaptation Council
Tel: 519-822-7554, ext 629

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