Entomologists at East Lansing’s MSU Use Drones to Release Sterile Insects, Decrease Pest Populations

Chris Adams and Larry Gut, entomologists in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at East Lansing’s Michigan State University, have started using drones to release sterile insects as a more sustainable and cost-effective way to disrupt reproduction of codling moths, pests to apple orchards.
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Dassay, Adams, and Smeltzer with drone
MSU researchers have found a way to use drones to release sterile codling moths to reduce their numbers in apple orchards. From the left is Loren Dassay, a drone pilot with M3; Chris Adams, MSU entomologist; and Dave Smeltzer, a grower with West Wind Orchards in Manistee. // Photograph by Megan Andrew, MSU Entomology

Chris Adams and Larry Gut, entomologists in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at East Lansing’s Michigan State University, have started using drones to release sterile insects as a more sustainable and cost-effective way to disrupt reproduction of codling moths, pests to apple orchards.

The moths are the principal apple pests. The larvae consume and damage all apple varieties and can destroy more than 50 percent of a crop without effective pest control.

Methods for controlling the bugs, including using insecticides, disrupting mating, and releasing viruses, are expensive and time consuming. For 25 years, farmers in the Pacific Northwest have released sterile insects by driving up and down orchards in ATVs to disrupt reproduction.

Comparatively, a drone can release these insects throughout 40 acres of apples in less than five minutes, saving time and energy.

Nestle’s Gerber Baby Food, which requires organic or minimally sprayed fruit with strict pesticide residue guidelines, asked to collaborate in the research with MSU. MSU has also partnered with M3 Consulting Group, an agriculture innovation company that uses drones to deploy the insects. Reducing application time also reduces cost.

The Tree Fruit Entomology Lab at MSU works to find cost-effective ways to control pests and minimize pesticide sprays.

Adams and Gut received funding from Project GREEN and the Washington State Tree Fruit Commission.

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