MAN’S BEST FRIEND JOINS THE BATTLE AGAINST AGRICULTURAL INVASIVE SPECIES
Not only can dogs be your best friend on the farm, your everyday work companion, and your dependable and dedicated guard, at many borders, airports, and ports of entry they are now preventing the spread of agricultural invasive species on your farm. They ought to be called Farmer’s best friend, but in New Zealand the government is simply calling them Biosecurity dogs.
We know that dogs are crucial tools for detecting things like drugs, explosives, and firearms at border crossings, but what about agricultural threats? According to the New Zealand government, Biosecurity is becoming an ever growing concern. Nathan Guy, the Minister of Primary Industries in New Zealand, has said their tourism industry is heavily reliant on a “rich ecological diversity and the knowledge that tourists can return to their own countries without fear of bringing a disease back to their homes and farms” or vice versa. New Zealand isn’t the only nation concerned with biosecurity threats; it’s important for all nations to protect their economy through biosecurity. While every nation has their own unique list of region-based biosecurity concerns and threats, the sentiment is the same.
So, what exactly are these dogs looking for or rather…sniffing for? Biosecurity dogs can identify agricultural infectious diseases in crops or livestock, dangerous pests, invasive species, endangered species, produce and agricultural items, as well as various plant, animal, and animal waste products. The risk with transporting an invasive species to a location where they are not native is that the species will have a high risk of becoming dominant with no natural predators; it can easily spread, and perhaps take over other native species, decimating the local environment, economy, and/or human health. The U.S. alone estimates invasive species costs due to production losses in agriculture, forestry, and control and management to be approximately $138 Billion per year!
Many of these threats can be transported completely unintentionally. Bringing an apple with you in your luggage to snack on later, or wearing those boots that you’d visited a farm with or took a hike in earlier in the week could be giving a free ride to a potentially devastating species. There are also some cases where individuals just don’t care or respect the rules set forth by the government, possibly with a lack of understanding of the true biosecurity threats and how they impact others.
One example of a devastating invasive species case was from the 1890’s, when the Boll Weevil was transported from Mexico into the USA, where it had devastating effects on the cotton crop. By the 1920’s researchers say that the Weevil had “spread to every cotton producing state, wiping out tens of thousands of acres of cotton, costing billions of dollars, and literally driving thousands of farmers off the land”.
It’s something to think about when you take your next family vacation, who knows what you could be picking up on your boots at your vacation destination and bringing back to your fields or vice versa. So, if you happen to run into one of these new furry faces of Biosecurity on your next trip, remember to think about and appreciate the good work that they’re doing for us and your farm!
Meet the New Furry Faces of Biosecurity, New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries Detector Dogs.
Written and Published by Jessica Kohls, BSc, PgCE – Dutch Soil Biologist