K9 Mira’s nose is so sensitive that she can smell sick citrus trees, and U.S. orange growers are hoping her super-sniffer will help combat one of the biggest threats ever to their crop.
The government has trained 10 dogs including Mira — a 32-month-old German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix — to identify a bacteria that has been killing citrus trees for a decade in Florida, the biggest domestic producer. Similar to canine teams that sniff out bombs, drugs and even bed bugs, this one is on the hunt for a disease known as citrus greening. There’s no cure, but growers hope the animals will give them more time to find one by slowing the contagion.
Florida’s orange harvest is forecast to reach a 52-year low this season, down 71 percent since 2004 as tiny bugs called Asian citrus psyllids spread the bacteria. It cost the citrus industry $7.8 billion and 7,500 jobs since 2006. Agricultural disease detection dogs, with 50 times more scent receptors in their noses than humans, sense chemicals that trees emit when infected. They’re accurate 99.7 percent of the time — better than laboratory tests — and identify diseased trees before symptoms appear.
Read: Economic Impacts of the Florida Citrus Industry in 2012-13