Nothing seems too crazy for detection dogs: they can even be used to detect diseases and viruses in bulbs and plants. Students of the Horticulture & Agribusiness and Animal Husbandry & Livestock Farming faculty at Inholland Delft, Holland, investigate whether it is feasible to use tracker dogs for inspections in horticulture quality service.

Students Haye van Leeuwen and Samantha Dooijenburgh already initiated research last year. They concluded that dogs can be used to detect crop diseases and infestations in greenhouses, cold storage and the open field. The precondition is that the dogs are well trained. Haye says that there is a world to win with dogs. "The green industry has suffered much loss through diseases and infestations. Detection dogs have already proven their usefulness in other sectors searching for mines, drugs, money and even some forms of cancer."

Marco van Dalen of Naktuinbouw, the independent quality control service of horticultural propagation material in Holland, can confirm this. He says it can deliver major benefits for entrepreneurs in horticulture. "A dog can bring you directly to a place where there’s potentially something wrong. If you recognize a disease or infestation at an early stage, you can take measures to limit the disease earlier. Throwing out a few plants is more economically beneficial than taking on a whole field."

A more efficient inspection
Jan, Eva Marije, Koen and Iris are among the new generation of students continuing with the research. They need to find out where in the chain the dog can best be used, who can best do this and what costs are involved. Jan: "Haye and Samantha have laid a good foundation for us. It's been proven that dogs can inspect plant material. This means that the inspection can be done much faster, more efficiently and cheaper than with an inspector." Eva Marije adds that it is nice to build on research that is actually going to be applied. "It's not just for school and won’t end up on the shelf. It's real!"

Reinforcing factor
Van Dalen: "Naktuinbouw obviously knows a lot of plants and horticulture, but little about animals. So we started looking for people who do have that knowledge." The students think that as a team, with their knowledge, they can be a reinforcing factor for both horticulture and the animal and livestock sector. For the study they interviewed several experts from different organizations, such as the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), dog connoisseurs and horticulture inspection agencies.

As the only Horticulture & Agribusiness student of the team Jan stresses that he’s been trained to tackle things in a socially responsible and sustainable way. His fellow students are also thrilled that they can contribute to a more efficient inspection of plant material. "We expect to learn a lot here!"