Psyllid Protection by Photonic Fence Under Development

Ernie NeffHLB Management, Psyllids


joe patt

By next year, a fence utilizing light sources is expected to be available to help protect some citrus structures and maybe even grove perimeters from the HLB-spreading psyllid. U.S. Department of Agriculture research entomologist Joe Patt explains the technology.

“Photonic fence is a multi-modal system that uses several different types of light in order to detect, track, identify and, if desired, kill specific target insect species in flight,” Patt says.

Patt recently set up a 10-foot-tall by 100-foot-long photonic fence and tested it on mosquitoes. “This first test run was successful in a number of ways,” he says. The system tracked the mosquitoes across the full length and width of the fence, and showed fluctuations in mosquito activity levels depending on whether humans were nearby. When researchers turned on the system’s “lethal laser mode” for two hours, the number of mosquitoes detected decreased “significantly,” Patt says. Since the test was more qualitative than quantitative, he doesn’t have the percentage of mosquitoes that were killed.

Patt discusses tests of the system for use on HLB-spreading Asian citrus psyllids. “Probably the initial tests would be done with nurseries and propagation structures, but it is also envisioned to be able to protect perimeters of citrus groves,” he says. Psyllids tend to congregate at grove perimeters.

When insects cross a wall of infrared light, they cast a silhouette. The system detects the insect’s size, outline, speed and wing beat frequency to determine if it is a target pest.

The photonic wall may be available for commercial use by 2019, Patt says. He says growers would have a high up-front cost for the equipment that operates on power provided by solar panels. The equipment is durable for 10 years with little required maintenance, “so the cost would be amortized over a 10-year period,” says Patt.

The entomologist believes use of a photonic wall could greatly decrease insecticide use in citrus under protective screen (CUPS) systems and in propagation systems. “For a grove, it’s going to be functional as a perimeter protection,” he says. Patt also envisions the system assisting with psyllid scouting, helping growers better determine when to spray insecticides.

Patt made a presentation about the photonic fence at the recent Florida Citrus Show in Fort Pierce.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large