Pistachio industry targets navel orangeworm with sterile moths

Jul 19, 2016

The pistachio industry is funding an effort to control navel orangeworm with sterile moths reared at a USDA facility in Phoenix, reported Annika Cline on KJZZ's The Show.

The same approach was used in a long-running battle with pink bollworms, which used to be the bane of cotton farmers. The story said USDA is checking fields this year before declaring pink bollworm officially eradicated.

Navel orangeworm isn't a serious pest of citrus, as the name might suggest, but it is devastating in tree nut production, said David Haviland, the UC Cooperative Extension entomology advisor in Kern County. Navel orangeworm moths lay eggs inside nuts, which mature and eat the nut meat. The cost of dealing with the pest is "huge," Haviland said.

Currently, the best strategy for keeping the pest in check is mummy removal - clearing nuts leftover after harvest.

"On every acre of almonds or pistachios in California, growers will spend two, three, sometimes $400 on an acre just doing what's called mummy removal," Haviland said.

Farmers also use pesticides against naval orangeworm. Haviland said they are expensive and require tedious paperwork.

"If the growers can use the sterile technique to actually avoid pesticide use altogether, that would be an ideal situation for both the farmer as well as for the consumer that's concerned about how their food is produced," Haviland said.

The USDA facility expects to send a shipment of sterile moths to California in August to see how well they disperse.

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist