Agriculture Detector K-9 on Duty!

Agriculture Detector K-9 on Duty!

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

California Ag Today’s associate broadcaster Charmayne Hefley recently asked Soya, a mixed-breed agriculture detector K-9 (canine) with big responsibilities, and Samantha Tomlinson, Soya’s handler with the Fresno County Ag Commissioner’s office, what type of dog Soya is.

ST:      We don’t know exactly what she is for sure, but we’re thinking about getting her DNA-tested someday. We’re thinking she’s a lab-border-collie.

Samantha Tomlinson, Soya and Charmayne Hefley
Samantha Tomlinson, Soya and Charmayne Hefley

CAT:   How long have you and Soya been together?

ST:      We have been matched up since mid-July when we went through the training program in Georgia through the National Detector Dog Training Center.

CAT:   What is Soya able to do for the Ag Commissioner’s office?

ST:      Soya smells out parcels for potential plant material and she alerts us [to suspicious ones] by scratching. We check to see if [the material] has been properly certified and if it’s good to go.

CAT:   What are some of her recent detections?

ST:      She can detect a number of things. She was initially trained on five scents: mango, stone fruit, apple, guava, and citrus. From there, through scent association, she’s been able to find a number of additional agricultural materials, including avocados, blueberries, nuts, soil, cut flowers; anything that is plant material, Soya can find.

CAT:   What region does Soya cover?

ST:      Right now we’ve been covering only Fresno County because we still are in what we call the “acclimation phase,” as she’s still new. We’ve been working at FedEx and UPS, but we’ll broaden our horizons eventually and we’ll be in the post office, GSO, OnTrac, any service that ships parcels.”

CAT:   How important is it for the agricultural industry to have dogs like Soya working for it?

ST:      Well Soya and I are considered a “first line of defense” for California’s multi-billion dollar ag industry. She is in the facilities checking boxes sent from potentially quarantined areas from within the state and from outside the state for materials that may contain any pests or diseases that could prove detrimental to California agriculture.

CAT:   People may not know when they’re shipping certain items—certain plant materials—from one county to the next that the destination county may have a quarantine in place. How do people properly ship plant material?

ST:      Every county is actually different. If you are thinking of shipping some of your backyard fruits to your nephew or grandson, I would contact your local ag commissioner and make sure there are not any quarantines in place for both the county you’re shipping from and the county you’re shipping to. In these facilities, we look for boxes to be properly labeled with the growing origin and we inspect thye contents inside. Depending on what is inside, where it’s grown and where it’s going, we act accordingly.

Dogs Detect Citrus Diseases

Dogs Detect Citrus Diseases

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Animals have been known to be able to use their senses to detect things that humans require extensive technology to detect. Mary Palm, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) national coordinator for citrus pest programs, said dogs have been successfully trained to detect canker disease, and now Huanglongbing disease (HLB), in citrus.

“Over the past four to five years,” Palm said, “a researcher in Florida first determined dogs could actually detect canker, began training dogs,” Palm said, “and then trained different sets of dogs to detect it. It turned out that they were very good at it. In a demonstration there, none of the people could find any symptoms in a particular citrus tree, but the dogs came through and found the symptoms. Once the people came back and looked very closely, sure enough, it was there.”

Palm said the USDA Huanglongbing Multi Agency Coordination (MAC) Group funded research to determine if dogs could detect HLB in citrus as well as they detected canker. There are now five dogs being trained and tested daily. If grower demand increases, the use of canines in pest management could increase.

Palm said they will probably come up in the next year or two with certification criteria for other companies to train dogs and certify them as detectors. Palm said, “They would be able to get a certificate to show they had conducted all of the tests necessary with the [proper] degree of accuracy.” Palm said the dogs in this program have a 99 percent success rate at detecting HLB disease.

Palm said approximately 80 trees are put inside every night, the positive ones in one greenhouse and the negative ones in another. The trees are taken out the next day and positioned in different patterns for dogs to inspect throughout the day. When the dogs are brought out, even their trainers don’t know which trees are positive or negative. The trained dogs are more than 99 percent accurate.”


USDA Huanglongbing Multi Agency Coordination (MAC) Group Funded Projects: List for the Control and Mitigation of Huanglongbing FY 2015