The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), specifically the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, has a new drone-enabled pilot program designed to combat bollworms. Pink bollworms can severely damage cotton crops by eating through the plants seeds and fibers. This reduces the quality of the cotton.
At a very high level, here is how the plan works:
- Lab raise pink bollworms
- Dye the lab raised pink bollworms red for easy identification
- Irradiate the now red pink bollworms, making them sterile
- Release the sterile pink bollworms into the environment
When the native pink bollworms try to reproduce with sterile pink bollworms they are unable to reproduce, effectively stopping a potential infestation. This is a safe, non-chemical solution and drones are the perfect, low cost delivery mechanism. It is also another example of where drones can replace traditional aircraft and still provide the same quality of service.
Keeping moths away from cotton is typically seen as a good thing. But the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has other ideas. In a pilot program, they’re using drones to drop thousands of lab-grown pink bollworm moths directly onto the cotton fields.
Drones are a cheaper delivery method than the manual throw-moths-out-of-a-small airplane method that has been used in the past, so if the tests continue to go well, you might be seeing more moths flying out of drones in the future.
Would you like to see a video of the drone mounted solution in action?
About Pink Bollworms
The pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) is an insect known for being a pest in cotton farming. The adult is a small, thin, gray moth with fringed wings. The larva is a dull white, eight-legged caterpillar with conspicuous pink banding along its dorsum. The larva reaches one half inch in length.
The pink bollworm is native to Asia, but has become an invasive species in most of the world’s cotton-growing regions. It reached the cotton belt in the southern United States by the 1920s. It is a major pest in the cotton fields of the southern California deserts.
The female moth lays eggs in a cotton boll, and when the larvae emerge from the eggs, they inflict damage through feeding. They chew through the cotton lint to feed on the seeds. Since cotton is used for both fiber and seed oil, the damage is twofold. Their disruption of the protective tissue around the boll is a portal of entry for other insects and fungi.
About the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), also known as the Agriculture Department, is the U.S. federal executive department responsible for developing and executing federal government policy on farming, agriculture, forestry, and food. It aims to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, promote agricultural trade and production, work to assure food safety, protect natural resources, foster rural communities and end hunger in the United States and internationally.