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VIDEO: Insect loaded drones take flight over orchards

An insect control program that's been in place in the Okanagan for three decades is reaching for the sky.

The Sterile Insect Release program, which controls coddling moths in apple orchards is now shifting to drones to distribute the sterile moths.

"The flight that's going to service this orchard is going to be about seven or eight minutes long," said SIR Program spokesperson Michelle Cook.

That's less than a third the time it would take for someone on an ATV to make the rounds.

<who>Photo credit: KelownaNow </who>

And it's believed they do a better job of distributing the insects for maximum effect.

"Our research trials have shown that it's going to be better," said Cook, "but we're going to need this season's operational data to know for sure."

Sterilized moths are loaded into what looks like a white bucket beneath the drone.

<who>Photo credit: KelownaNow </who>

Then a small auger gently spills them out periodically as it makes its way around the orchard at an altitude of about 30 metres.

The program sterilizes coddling moths and releases them into orchards where they mate with wild coddling moths.

It reduces the presence of the pests by about 90% while reducing the use of chemicals.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow

"This is an environmentally beneficial program," she said, "because the orchardists have to spray less pesticides to control this insect."

It's the larva produced by the coddling moth that are a problem for apple growers.

"It's the proverbial worm in your apple," she explained.

<who>Photo credit: KelownaNow </who>

In order to launch the new drone program, SIR staff had to train and get certified to operate the drones under the rules set out by Transport Canada.

"We're drone pilots," said Cook, with a grin. "It's been great and it's been a learning experience for sure. We're having a ton of fun learning to fly the drones."

<who>Photo credit: KelownaNow </who>

There are no cameras on the drones, so area residents don't need to be concerned about being spied-upon from the air.

They will only be flying over South and Southeast Kelowna this season, after which the success of the new method will be evaluated.

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