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Identify pests with a new web tool

The Canadian Grain Commission is offering a new online tool 
to help farmers identify pests in stored grain

Red flour beetle.

A new web tool has recently been developed to help identify pests.

Brent Elliot, program/infestation control and sanitation officer, industry services, Canadian Grain Commission, helped develop this new web tool for identifying insects in stored grain.

“There are actually two tools — two identification keys,” said Elliot.

One identification key is for stored product beetles found in Canada and is a comprehensive list of beetles one may encounter in stored products (predominantly grain, but also flour and other substances).

The other identification key is for stored grain pests. “It’s a very subtle difference in the title,” admitted Elliot. “Pests are much more commonly found either in a prairie elevator or on farm situations. And it’s not just beetles. It’s a little easier to use for the more general public (than is the other one).”

Elliot and team refer to the tool as a “dichotomous key.” He explained, “The simplest way to think of it is you’re looking at it and going, okay, what am I having for dinner tonight — steak or chicken? You make your choice and then go onto the next one — like, am I having broccoli or carrots? You continue in this process until you have a full plate. With us, that means you end up with a complete identification of an insect.”

A farmer who finds a pest or beetle, can go to the web tool and compare photos with what he’s found. The first step would be to check if the pest or bettle is larger than one millimeter. The questions continue on from there.

A hand lens (at least a 10x power lens) is needed to identify the insects, with most being quite small (most are two to five mm long). A photo can also be taken using a smart phone and the photo can be scaled up on the phone (instead of just on the insect itself) to get a better view.

“The best thing about this tool is that, we hope, it will get people checking their grain more often,” said Elliot. “From our perspective, the best thing anyone can do is check their grain regularly – not only for insects, but also for heat buildup and mould.”

Elliot and team are working on developing a glossary of terms, where users unfamiliar with a particular item can just click on it to open up another information window.

“Beetles are most common pest, predominantly in grain, we see in Canada, but other pests include insects like silver fish (sometimes found in elevator grain), moths, mites, and book lice (very small pests),” said Elliot.

Once users get an identification, there is a link to information on that specific insect pest as well as photos to help verify the identification. This information includes pest descriptions, lists of similar species, affected commodities, infestation signs, damage caused and control information.

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“The type of damage depends on the pest species and whether they feed on the seeds internally or externally,” said Elliot. “The rusty grain beetle is Canada’s most common pest. A couple others you’ll find in stored grain are the red flour beetle and the sawed tooth grain beetle.”

The Canadian Grain Commission uses the terms “primary” and “secondary” pest.

Producers must control a primary pest immediately. These pests are beetles (like the rusty grain beetle, red flour beetle, and granary weevil) that can feed on whole grains, attacking grain that is otherwise healthy.

Secondary pests are typically associated with grain going out of condition. They may be feeding on the grain or just on storage moulds associated with grain gone bad. These do not need to be immediately controlled.

Treatment threshold and control

“Thresholds in stored grain in Canada are very difficult systems to sample,” said Elliot. “You’re looking at a very large, bulk of grain — thousands of tones of grain in the system that’s very difficult to sample.

“So, as far as we’re concerned, if you find an insect pest, you have an infestation. The tolerance is one or — in other words — zero. So, there aren’t different thresholds for different pests. You have an infestation or you don’t.”

Rusty grain beetles are fairly susceptible to various treatment methods, which, in Canada, includes insecticide, fumigation, or removing the grain (as their larvae feed external to the grain). “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of auguring the grain out of the bin (or wherever it is) onto a vehicle and then putting it back to control the population,” said Elliot.

“You can also control it by cooling it down, which can take a considerable period of time. If it’s around 0 C outside, it will take a number of weeks to control the population. But, with our cold Canada temperatures, we can get the grain bin temperature down within a week, controlling the insect population.

“If the temperature is warm, you’re best bet is probably fumigation — unlike in winter, when cooling the grain will work better (as fumigating will not work below 5 Ca).”

Typically, fumigation in Canada is done with an insecticide that has various trade names. It is a pellet you put into the grain that reacts to the air’s oxygen, liberating the gas (an insecticide), which kills the pests. It is recommended to hire a licensed applicator to do this or to get training yourself.

With a secondary pest, control is desired, but less extreme measures are needed as these pests are more an indication that (a) your grain is going out of condition and (b) you have other, more serious problems (such as mould).

The long-range goal, according to Elliot, is to go beyond dealing with adult-only beetles (which are what the tool currently handles). “We’re now looking at the immature stages of the beetles too, as well as moths and caterpillars associated with stored grain,” he said.

“Pretty much all these beetles can fly. The key with pests, as there’s such a huge offspring population, is to bring the bin temperatures down as fast as you can (so they can’t reproduce).

“Most producers check their grain before shipping it. Truckers and elevator operators do too. If an elevator operator finds a pest, the grain is returned to the producer who has to clean it up, control the insect pest. The further it goes into the system, the larger the problem, the more expensive it is to control.”

Rebeca Kuropatwa is a professional writer in Winnipeg, Man.

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