Okanagan sterile moths heading south - InfoNews

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Okanagan sterile moths heading south

A specially designed drone for dropping sterilized moths on infested orchards.
Image Credit: M3 Consulting Group
March 26, 2019 - 7:30 AM

KELOWNA - The moths are heading south.

The Okanagan Sterile Insect Release Program recently signed a contract with M3 Consulting Group to supply hundreds of thousands of sterile moths to dozens of Washington farms via drones over the next year. It's an ambitious step for the Okanagan-based company that's grown steadily over the last few years.

"It's the logical next step," the program's general manager Melissa Tesche said. "Washington is a no-brainer. The demand is there."

The codling moth is a big problem for farmers. These insects can wreak havoc by infecting apples and multiplying their population at an accelerated pace. The release program combats these moths by using their own libidos against them.

The program introduces sterile moths into the ecosystems and disrupting the mating process, which in turn can cut down on their total population. It's an alternative to heavy pesticide use.

Over three years ago, the program began working with M3, which specializes in unmanned aircraft, to try distributing the sterile moths using drones to reach tricky spots. The tests were successful and now both groups are ready to expand to America.

The Sterile Insect Release Program and M3 agreed to a one-year contract where M3 will take sterile moths from a facility in Osoyoos and sell them to farms in Washington and distribute them through drones. This test run will cover roughly 1200 acres of farmland.

M3 CEO Nathan Moses-Gonzales said his company will visit the Osoyoos facility three times a week to collect batches of moths. He estimates they'll gather 960,000 sterile moths per week, meaning there will be 800 moths per acre.

The contract will be reviewed after one year to gauge its success and see if it could be expanded. Both Tesche and Moses-Gonzales are excited to expand the program into a new market.

"This has been a long and evolving relationship," Moses-Gonzales said. "We look forward to future steps."

The sterile moths are expected to start their journey south in late April.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Sean Mott or call (250) 864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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