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Radio Frequency Puts the Heat on Plant
Pests By Alfredo Flores
February 11, 2003
Although the effectiveness of using radio waves to kill
destructive insects in agricultural products has been known for 70 years, the
technique has never been applied on a commercial scale. For several decades,
methyl bromide has been a mainstay treatment to kill a wide array of
A recent cooperative effort by four
Agricultural Research Service research
laboratories and two universities aims to overcome the technical barriers to
use of radio wave heating to control pests on a commercial scale in places such
as orchards, packinghouses and food plants.
Electromagnetic waves of radio frequency can make molecules
vibrate and heat up, in the same way that microwaves heat food. The trick is to
kill pest insects without killing the taste or texture of the food they
Since 2000, a team led by Juming "Jimmy" Tang of Washington
State University (WSU) in Pullman, involving
four ARS laboratories and the University of California-Davis (UC-Davis), has been working on a four-year
study to see if radio waves would be an economical, environmentally friendly
alternative to the use of methyl bromide and other chemicals to effectively rid
fruits and nuts of live insects.
At the Kika De La Garza
Subtropical Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas, ARS
entomologist Guy J. Hallman is investigating the use of radio frequency
treatment of citrus against the Mexican fruit fly. Hallman is developing a
device to simulate what's needed to commercially heat-treat citrus fruit, such
as oranges and tangerines, with radio waves.
In cooperation with a team led by Tang, a professor in
biological systems engineering at WSU, James D. Hansen, an entomologist at ARS'
Yakima Agricultural Research
Laboratory in Wapato, Wash., plans to "bathe" tubs full of apples and
cherries with radio waves to determine exposure times that will kill codling
moth larvae without affecting the fruit's quality. Hansen is working with
Stephen R. Drake, a horticulturist at ARS'
Tree Fruit Research Laboratory in
Wenatchee, Wash., and Lisa G. Nevens, an ARS entomologist at the Wapato
Meanwhile, at the ARS San
Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier, Calif.,
entomologist Judy A. Johnson is testing the use of this technology to rid
walnuts, almonds, pistachios, figs and raisins of the wiggly larvae of the
navel orangeworm, Indianmeal moth and codling moth.
Read more about this research in the
February issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.