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Archive for the ‘Weeds’ Category

Robot weed killers

 Weed 1

YVERDON-LES-BAINS, Switzerland  •  In a field of sugar beets in Switzerland, a solar-powered robot that looks like a table on wheels scans the rows of crops with its camera, identifies weeds and zaps them with jets of blue liquid from its mechanical tentacles.

Undergoing final tests before the liquid is replaced with weedkiller, the Swiss robot is one of new breed of AI weeders that investors say could disrupt the $100 billion pesticides and seeds industry by reducing the need for universal herbicides and the genetically modified (GM) crops that tolerate them.

Dominated by companies such as Bayer, DowDuPont, BASF and Syngenta, the industry is bracing for the impact of digital agricultural technology and some firms are already adapting their business models.

The stakes are high. Herbicide sales are worth $26 billion a year and account for 46 percent of pesticides revenue overall while 90 percent of GM seeds have some herbicide tolerance built in, according to market researcher Phillips McDougall.

“Some of the profit pools that are now in the hands of the big agrochemical companies will shift, partly to the farmer and partly to the equipment manufacturers,” said Cedric Lecamp, who runs the $1 billion Pictet-Nutrition fund that invests in companies along the food supply chain.

In response, producers such as Germany’s Bayer have sought partners for their own precision spraying systems while ChemChina’s Syngenta, for example, is looking to develop crop protection products suited to the new equipment.

While still in its infancy, the plant-by-plant approach heralds a marked shift from standard methods of crop production.

Now, non-selective weedkillers such as Monsanto’s Roundup are sprayed on vast tracts of land planted with tolerant GM seeds, driving one of the most lucrative business models in the industry.

‘See and spray’

But ecoRobotix , developer of the Swiss weeder, believes its design could reduce the amount of herbicide farmers use by 20 times. The company said it is close to signing a financing round with investors and is due to go on the market by early 2019.

Blue River, a Silicon Valley startup bought by U.S. tractor company Deere & Co. for $305 million last year, has also developed a machine using on-board cameras to distinguish weeds from crops and only squirt herbicides where necessary.

+16  Weed 2

Spray nozzle assemblies for the Blue River Technology See & Spray agricultural machine that combines computer vision and artificial intelligence to detect and precisely spray herbicides onto weeds in a farm field are seen in Sunnyvale, California, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/ Stephen Lam

Its “See and Spray” weed control machine, which has been tested in U.S. cotton fields, is towed by a tractor and the developers estimate it could cut herbicide use by 90 percent once crops have started growing.

German engineering company Robert Bosch is also working on similar precision spraying kits as are other startups such as Denmark’s Agrointelli .

ROBO Global , an advisory firm that runs a robotics and automation investment index tracked by funds worth a combined $4 billion, believes plant-by-plant precision spraying will only gain in importance.

“A lot of the technology is already available. It’s just a question of packaging it together at the right cost for the farmers,” said Richard Lightbound, Robo’s CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“If you can reduce herbicides by the factor of 10 it becomes very compelling for the farmer in terms of productivity. It’s also eco friendly and that’s clearly going to be very popular, if not compulsory, at some stage,” he said.

‘Pause for thought’

While Blue River, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is testing a product in cotton fields, it plans to branch into other major crops such as soy. It expects to make the product widely available to farmers in about four to five years, helped by Deere’s vast network of equipment dealers.

ROBO’s Lightbound and Pictet’s Lecamp said they were excited by the project and Jeneiv Shah, deputy manager of the 152 million pound ($212 million) Sarasin Food & Agriculture Opportunities fund, said the technology would put Bayer and Syngenta’s crop businesses at risk while seed firms could be hit — albeit to a lesser extent.

+16  Weed 3

A mock-up model of a Blue River Technology See & Spray agricultural machine that combines computer vision and artificial intelligence to detect and precisely spray herbicides onto weeds in a farm field is seen in Sunnyvale, California, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/ Stephen Lam

“The fact that a tractor and row-crop oriented company such as John Deere did this means it won’t be long before corn or soybean farmers in the U.S. Midwest will start using precision spraying,” Shah said.

While the technology promises to save money, it could be a tough sell to some U.S. farmers as five years of bumper harvests have depressed prices for staples including corn and soybeans. U.S. farm incomes have dropped by more than half since 2013, reducing spending on equipment, seeds and fertilizer.

Still, the developments are giving investors in agrochemicals stocks pause for thought, according to Berenberg analyst Nick Anderson. And agrochemical giants are taking note.

Bayer, which will become the world’s biggest seeds and pesticides producer when its acquisition of GM crop pioneer Monsanto completes, teamed up with Bosch in September for a “smart spraying” research project.

The German partners plan to outpace rivals by using an on-board arsenal of up to six different herbicides and Bayer hopes the venture will prepare it for a new commercial model — rather than cannibalizing its current business.

“I would assume that within three years we would have a robust commercially feasible model,” Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division said in February.

“I’m not concerned in terms of damping sales because we don’t define ourselves as a volume seller. We rather offer a prescription for a weed-free field, and we get paid based on the quality of the outcome,” he said.

+16  Weed 4

The prototype of an autonomous weeding machine by Swiss start-up ecoRobotix is pictured during tests on a sugar beet field near Bavois, Switzerland May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Bayer agreed to sell its digital farming ventures, including the Bosch project, to German rival BASF as part of efforts to win antitrust approval to buy Monsanto. But BASF will grant Bayer an unspecified license to the digital assets and products.

BASF said the Bosch precision spraying collaboration was very interesting but it was too early to comment further as the transaction had not completed.

‘Part of the story’

Syngenta, which was an investor in Blue River before Deere took over, said the advantages of the new technology outweighed any potential threats to its business model.

“We will be part of the story, by making formulations and new molecules that are developed specifically for this technology,” said Renaud Deval, global head of weed control at Syngenta, which was bought by ChemChina last year.

While it has no plans to invest directly in engineering, Syngenta is looking into partnerships where it can contribute products and services, Deval said.

Still, Sarasin’s Shah said the big agrochemical firms would need to accelerate spending on getting their businesses ready for new digital agricultural technology.

“The established players need to invest a lot more than they currently are to be positioned better in 10 years’ time. The sense of urgency will increase as farmers start to adopt some of the more advanced kits that are coming out,” he said.

Michael Underhill, chief investment officer at Capital Innovations, also said the major players may be underestimating the potential impact on their pesticides businesses.

“Precision leads to efficiency, efficiency leads to decreased usage, decreased usage leads to decreased margins or margin compression, and that will lead to companies getting leaner and meaner,” said Underhill.

He said the GM seeds market would also take a hit if machine learning takes over the role genetic engineering has played so far in shielding crops from herbicides’ friendly fire.

“Instead of buying the Cadillac of seeds or the Tesla of seeds, they may be buying the Chevy version,” Underhill said.

New weapons

The advent of precision weed killing also comes at a time blanket spraying of global blockbusters such as glyphosate is under fire from environmentalists and regulators alike.

More than 20 years of near-ubiquitous use of glyphosate, the active substance in Monsanto’s Roundup, has created resistant strains of weeds that are spreading across the U.S. farm belt.

Regulators have raised the bar for bringing blanket chemical agents to market and the fear of toxic risks has been heightened by the debate over the potential impact of glyphosate on health.

Michael Owen, associate chair at Iowa State University’s Department of Agronomy, reckons it would now cost agrochemical giants up to an almost prohibitive $400 million to develop a next-generation universal weedkiller.

Bayer’s Condon said in the current environment precision spraying could well be the final blow to further attempts to develop new broad-spectrum or non-selective herbicides.

“Everything that comes tends to be selective in nature. There won’t be a new glyphosate. That was probably a once-in-a-lifetime product,” said Condon.

For now, the industry is reviving and reformulating older, broad-spectrum agents known as dicamba and 2,4-D to finish off glyphosate-resistant weeds — and it is selling new GM crops tolerant to those herbicides too.

+16  weed 6

The prototype of an autonomous weeding machine by Swiss start-up ecoRobotix is pictured during tests on a sugar beet field near Bavois, Switzerland May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Precision spraying could mean established herbicides whose effect has worn off on some weeds could be used successfully in more potent, targeted doses, said Claude Juriens, head of business development at ecoRobotics in Yverdon-les Bains.

But experts say new products will still be needed for the new technology and some chemical firms are considering reviving experimental herbicides once deemed too costly or complex.

“Because we’re now giving the grower an order of magnitude reduction in the amount of herbicide they’re using, all of a sudden these more expensive, exotic herbicides are now in play again,” said Willy Pell, Blue River director of new technology.

“They’ve actually devoted resources to looking through their backlog, kind of cutting room floor, and rethinking these different materials with our machine in mind,” he said.

Polansek reported from Chicago. Also contributing to this report are Rod Nickel from Toronto and Simon Jessop from London.

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Delta farm press

spraying-soybean-field-rig-unitedsoybeanboard United Soybean Board

Some early Arkansas soybeans hit by pigweeds, diseases, worms

Courts say dicamba ban in place

David Bennett | May 10, 2018

Having passed an April 15 dicamba spraying cutoff and multiple court challenges, the weather of recent weeks means Arkansas soybean growers are now facing a flush of pigweeds.

“I’m getting several calls from all over the state – ‘The pigweeds are up in our beans,’” says Tom Barber, University of Arkansas weed specialist. “We haven’t had a year in a while where the rains just stopped in the spring. We’ve had fairly wet springs the last several years and there’s been good opportunities for residual herbicide activation.”

Barber, who spoke on May 8, continues: “It is harder to manage pigweeds with just residual herbicides because they’re so environmentally-dependent and no rain, means no residual activity. Lately, rains have been spotty at best and currently there are only low chances of a shower or two in the next seven days.”

Jeremy Ross, University of Arkansas soybean specialist has also been talking to many concerned growers. “For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been on par for the five-year average for planting. The cold, wet conditions in April have caused some to replant. I’ve had several calls asking about minimum stands to keep.

“Because of the conditions, we have seen more seedling diseases – phytopthera, rhizoc and pithium. That’s especially true where there wasn’t a seed treatment.”

The spring has also “potentially set up for an SDS year because that fungus affects early-season beans in cool, wet environments,” says Ross. “We won’t really know if SDS will be a problem until the soybeans go into reproduction. At that point, there’s nothing we can do to pull plants out of the symptoms. There was a lot of talk a couple of years ago when SDS was bad in the state about fungicides and other products could cure the symptoms. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.”

There have also been a lot of worms and grubs in soybeans. “The worst of that, again, is where insecticide/fungicide seed treatments were not used,” says Ross.

Fighting pigweed

So, what has Barber been telling growers regarding the fight against pigweeds?

“Obviously, there was also a period in April when courts were involved and there was a lot of uncertainty about (the dicamba spraying cutoff date),” says Barber. “Many growers made the decision to return the LibertyLink soybean seed for Roundup Xtend seed prior to planting.

“The legal aspect, I believe, has since been cleared up for the time being with the Arkansas Agriculture Department releasing a statement on April 30 that dicamba regulations would be enforced in all counties and the dicamba cutoff was valid through Oct 31.”

Now, though, with Xtend beans planted in some fields, “pigweeds are coming up because we didn’t get rains to activate pre’s timely. Or, they may have gotten rains after the pigweeds had already come up.”

Due to the dicamba restrictions in Arkansas, the only option in such scenarios “is Roundup plus fomesafen, for the pigweed. An example would be 1.5 pints of Flexstar or 2.25 pints of Prefix (spiked) with six ounces of Flexstar to get the full allowable rate of fomesafen.

“If the pigweeds are up, we’ve got to get them small. Even they aren’t PPO-resistant and bigger than three inches tall, we don’t have a great chance of killing all of them. That’s where we’re at, timely applications are key to any success”.

As for PPO-resistant pigweed, “the higher percentage is in northeast Arkansas, although not every field is infested. Through our screening procedure it looks like approximately 50 percent of the samples we get in from northeast Arkansas (north of I-40 and east of the ridge) are PPO-resistant. Farther south and west it is not as widespread.”

Showers have been spotty and many times may not have provided enough rainfall for herbicide activation, says Barber. “However, in current temperatures if there’s moisture out there pigweeds can germinate. They don’t have to have a rain. And if the herbicides haven’t been activated they’ll come up. And once they’re up, you need an option to take them out post.

“We’ve been criticized for recommending Liberty because we have relied on Liberty for so long and it is a concern, but if you can’t spray dicamba legally there aren’t that many other post options in soybean, especially if pigweed populations are PPO-resistant.”

The state is growing more Enlist cotton which adds another option for pigweed control. “But because of the import approval issues with China, the Enlist bean acres are very limited,” says Barber.

Ross agrees. “If you don’t have LibertyLink planted and pigweeds are up, there really are limited options. In some pigweed areas, growers are going to come back in and replant with LibertyLink varieties.”

Despite all that, says Ross, “we’re okay with planting. We should get a lot of seed in the ground this week and next. We just need the weather to hold up for our farmers.”

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VA Tech logo

Invasive plants have surprising ability to pioneer new continents and climates, Virginia Tech researchers discover

December 4, 2017

Velvetleaf plant
Velvetleaf represents one of the many invasive plant species that was tested by Dan Atwater and Jacob Barney.

Virginia Tech scientists have discovered that invasive plant species are essentially able to change in order to thrive on new continents and in different types of climates, challenging the assumption that species occupy the same environment in native and invasive ranges.

It’s no secret that globalization, aided by climate change, is helping invasive species gain a foothold across the planet, but it was something of a surprise to Virginia Tech researchers just how mutable these invaders are.

The study, by Jacob Barney, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, and Dan Atwater, a lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University and Barney’s former post-doctoral advisee, was published Dec. 4 in Nature Ecology and Evolution, a new online journal.

Two Virginia Tech researchers
Dan Atwater, left, and Jacob Barney examined 815 terrestrial plant species from every continent, along with millions of occurrence points, and compared models in the largest global invasive species study to date.

“This is important for both changing how we think about species and where they grow,” said Barney, who is also a fellow in the Fralin Life Science Institute and an affiliate of the Global Change Center. “The findings also change our ability to predict where they will grow and how they may respond in a changing climate. This could be a game-changer for invasive species risk assessment and conservation.”

Atwater used data compiled by undergraduate Carissa Ervine, also an author on the paper, to test a long-held assumption in ecology – that the climate limitations of plants do not change, which means we can predict where they will grow. Small studies supported this supposition. However, the Virginia Tech researchers blew this assumption away by testing more than 800 species using new models developed by Atwater and Barney.

“Some people would say that invasive species have different distributions in a new climate. But we found they are occupying a wider range of new climates,” said Atwater. “Species are changing in their ecology when they move from one continent to another. We should expect species to change, possibly permanently, when they cross continents.”

The results have major consequences for applying environmental niche models to assess the risk of invasive species and for predicting species’ responses to climate change. Species capable of changing their ecology and the climates they call home may pose a challenge to researchers using native range data to forecast the distribution of invasive species.

The driver behind the study was a desire to forecast the future distribution of invasive species, which pose a serious threat to human, environmental, and economic health. The researchers began by posing the question: Do invasive species occupy the same climate in invasive range that they do in their native range? To find out, they compared native and invasive species.

Barney and Atwater examined 815 terrestrial plant species from every continent, along with millions of occurrence points, or locations where the plants have been known to occur, and compared models in the largest global invasive species study to date. They found evidence of climatic niche shifts in all of the 815 plant species introduced across five continents. A climatic niche refers to the set of climates in which a species has a stable or growing population.

Generally, their findings suggest that niche shifts reflect changes in climate availability at the continent scale and were the largest in long-lived and cultivated species. If species move to a warmer continent, for instance, they tend to shift toward occupying warmer climates. In short, cultivated plants with long lifespans are particularly adept at making themselves home in new climates.

“There are not only implications for predicting where invasive species will occur, there are management repercussions as well,” said Barney. “As an example, for certain species we use biocontrol, introducing one organism to control another, an approach that may not be effective or safe if the targeted species undergoes ecological change. When we do climate modeling, we assume the climate niche may be the same when it may not be. So, there are a broad range of implications in a broad range of fields.”

Barney raised another concern.

“By cultivating species — bending them for agricultural or ornamental purposes and selecting for traits, such as cold-hardiness, we push them into environments they would not have occupied,” he said. “Those selection pressures in breeding, plus the environments we put them in, may exaggerate this change. Short-lived species, for example, go into dryer climates. So the take home is that different species’ traits influence the direction of a niche shift.”

Once Atwater and Barney understand these drivers more fully, they hope to be able to predict how the geographic range of an invasive species will increase in order to pinpoint areas likely to be invaded.

“The other piece layered onto this is the assumption that the climate is stable, which is not the case,” said Atwater. “We have also relied on the assumption that a species is a species and its ecological tendencies remain constant. This too is not the case. Species vary in space and time. They behave differently on different continents and in different climates. Consequently, the concept of a species climatic niche is less stable and less clearly defined.”

With food production, human health, ecosystem resilience, and biodiversity at stake as global invasions outpace our ability to respond, a greater understanding of climatic niche shifts is critical to future attempts to forecast species dynamics, according to the researchers.

 

—      Written by Amy Painter

Contact:

 

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BCPC News

Aussie scientists develop microwave device that kills weeds instantly

Source: Xinhua| 2017-11-22 08:53:32|Editor: pengying

SYDNEY, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) — Australian scientists on an experimental farm have developed a revolutionary method of killing weeds using microwaves.

Graham Brodie, a food and agriculture lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s agricultural campus, an experimental farm in Dookie, 226 km north of Melbourne, has developed the method of using trailer-mounted microwave generators to combat weeds.

A bank of four microwave generators, approximately double the power of an average microwave oven, is put on the back of the trailer which is then driven over the weeds, killing them immediately.

The generators “cook” the weeds from the inside, just as a microwave oven does with food, leaving them wilted and dead rather than burned or shrivelled.

The range of radiation is limited to between two and three centimeters, enough to kill the weeds while making the device safe to operate.

“It kills the plants almost instantaneously,” Brodie told the university’s internal publication on Wednesday.

“The big gain is that we can kill weeds without herbicides, so we don’t have to worry about weeds that are now evolving chemical resistances, and it kills the seeds left in the soil too so the weeds don’t grow back.

“It can also be done in any weather, it isn’t a fire hazard, and farmers can sow their crops immediately instead of having to wait for the herbicide to clear.”

The device could save the Australian agricultural industry more than 3 billion U.S. dollars which is spent by farmers on herbicides every year.

Testing of Brodie’s device found that it was marginally more expensive than using herbicides but had added benefits such being longer lasting, enriching soil and killing pests such as snails, fungi and parasites.

Brodie said the microwaves did kill worms that were within five centimeters of the surface but deeper-lying worms were unharmed.

The device has been patented and will be subjected to a large-scale trial

 

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The Country

Two rust fungi that are very welcome

Entomologist Jenny Dymock with a Cable Bay lantana plant showing the damage done by a biocontrol fungus.
Entomologist Jenny Dymock with a Cable Bay lantana plant showing the damage done by a biocontrol fungus.

The discovery of myrtle rust in a Kerikeri nursery earlier this year sparked a dramatic but probably futile bid by the Ministry of Primary Industries to contain and destroy it, but not all rusts are equal.

Two rust fungi that attack Lantana camara have not only been welcomed – they were deliberately introduced, and according to Cable Bay-based entomologist Jenny Dymock, one is beginning to have a noticeable impact on the pest plant in Northland.

The Environmental Protection Authority approved the release of Puccinia lantanae and Prospodium tuberculatum to control lantana in 2012. Both were released in Northland (the Whangaroa, Doubtless Bay, Awanui and Kohukohu areas) in autumn.

Dr Dymock, who works with the Northland Regional Council, said they worked by restricting the growth rate and fruit and leaf production of lantana, one of the world’s most invasive weeds.

While Puccinia lantanae (a blister rust) did not appear to have established itself in Northland yet, the leaf rust Prospodium tuberculatum was beginning to have a big impact on lantana populations, as evidenced by the number of plants with dead or dying branches.

Lantana was a serious problem in Northland, where it formed dense thickets that invaded a wide variety of areas, from native and exotic forests to domestic gardens, roadsides, sand dunes, quarries and wasteland, Dr Dymock said.

Typically a low, scrambling shrub with small, colourful flowers, lantana could be poisonous to people and grazing stock. It had thorny stems, strong-smelling leaves, especially when crushed, and produced fruit that was attractive to birds, which then spread its seeds to uninfested sites.

The NRC was behind the original application to the EPA to import the rusts, part of a growing number of host-specific weapons in the council’s biocontrol arsenal.

She was delighted to see the rust, native to Brazil, making a noticeable dent in the local lantana population. Surprisingly, it appeared to be most effective in late winter, which she attributed to wetter conditions.

“Many people will be unaware that we have a range of more than two dozen biological control agents already in use in Northland, with even more likely to be available in the future,” Dr Dymock added.

“Biological control is the use of naturally-occurring enemies and diseases to control pests and weeds. A cost-effective and environmentally-friendly method of pest control, it’s not designed to eradicate a species; instead it aims to keep populations at low levels.”

As well as fungi and bacteria, biological control tools included an “army” of insects, some of which targeted other insects, and even tiny internal parasites.

The process from lowly insect or fungus to biological control agent was a painstaking, lengthy and initially costly one, however.

“The NRC typically spends at least $80,000 a year on biological control work, and is part of a national group that collectively spends more than $600,000 on this annually,” she said.

Signs of an introduced rust fungus at work on a lantana leaf.
Signs of an introduced rust fungus at work on a lantana leaf.

The first step in finding a biocontrol agent was a survey of the target’s natural enemies, in New Zealand and/or overseas. If no natural enemies were found in New Zealand, potentially suitable overseas candidates from areas with a climate matching Northland’s had to be extensively tested in a secure quarantine facility to determine whether they would attack any native New Zealand species, or any species that was of economic value.

“Only when researchers are confident the potential biocontrol agent attacks just the target species alone is an application for release from quarantine made to the EPA, followed by consultation with the public and stakeholders,” she said.

It could take years to progress from beginning an initial hunt for a biological control agent to approval of its release.

Anyone who was interested in learning more about biocontrol in Northland should visit www.nrc.govt.nz/biologicalcontrol.

Northland Age

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icbc China.png

cspp-logo-copy1

FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF BIOLOGICAL CONTROL

The first International Congress of Biological Control will be held in Beijing, China, May 14-16, 2018.

The purpose of the congress is to strengthen communication and cooperation between researchers investigating biological control techniques of insect pests, invasive weeds and plant diseases, and to promote the global development of biological control technology and industry. The theme of this conference is: Biological Control for a Healthy Planet with a sub-theme of Interdisciplinary Biological Control.

This congress, hosted jointly by Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), China Society of Plant Protection (CSPP) and International Organization for Biological Control (IOBC) will cover a wide range of biological control topics regarding insect pests, invasive weeds and plant diseases. The organizing committee has invited many excellent scientists to attend the congress and more excellent investigators are joining the congress. We are confident that you will enjoy the congress in Beijing, China’s beautiful and historic capital city and discuss new developments and future directions of biological control with scientists around the world. It is our great honor to welcome you to the First International Congress of Biological Control.

The conference will include three sessions: plenary lectures, invited talks, poster session and the exhibition of new technologies and products. Topics will include, but no limited to, the following:

  • Integration of the various classes of biological control
  • Biological control of plant diseases, insect pests and weeds
  • Biological control as a means of preserving biodiversity
  • The impact of climate change on biological control
  • Risk assessment and biosafety for biological control
  • Industrial policy and market development of biological control
  • Socio-economic impacts and capacity building for biological control
  • Current status and uptake of biological control in the Belt and Road countries

Committee Chairs

Scientific Committee Chairs Organizing Committee Chairs Local Working Group Leader
WU Kongming (CAAS) TANG Huajun (CAAS) QIU Dewen (CAAS)
George Heimpel (IOBC) Barbara Barratt (IOBC)  

 Program outline

May 14, 2018:AM: plenary lectures; PM: Session presentations

May 15, 2018: AM: plenary lectures; PM: visit Modern Agricultural Exhibition

May 16, 2018: Session presentations and closing speech

Registration and Accommodation

You can register online or fill in the preliminary registration form and send it to us by E-mail. We have selected international hotels for participants. Please make your hotel choices and send to us when you register.

For more detailed information about registration and accommodation, please refer to our website.

http://www.canevent.com/customPage/customPagePreview?pageId=43612&eventId=10003226

Contact Persons

Qiu Dewen (CAAS) Gao Yulin (IOBC)
Email: qiudewen@caas.cn Email: gaoyulin@caas.cn
   

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Scoop Regional

Independent News

Rust fungus proving value in battle against lantana

04 October, 2017

Rust fungus proving value in battle against lantana

A rust fungus introduced to New Zealand two years ago to wage biological war against ‘Lantana camara’ is starting to have a noticeable impact on the pest plant in Northland.

Entomologist Jenny Dymock says the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approved the release of two rust fungi – Puccinia lantanae andProspodium tuberculatum – to control lantana in April 2012, with both subsequently released in Northland in 2015.

Cable Bay-based Dr Dymock, who works with the Northland Regional Council (NRC), says the fungi were released in the Whangaroa, Doubtless Bay, Awanui and Kohukohu areas in autumn two years ago.

The rusts work by reducing the growth rate and fruit and leaf production of lantana plants, one of the world’s most invasive weeds.

While Puccinia lantanae (a blister rust) did not appear to have established itself in Northland yet, in contrast the leaf rust Prospodium tuberculatum was beginning to have a big impact on local lantana populations, as evidenced by the number of lantana with dead and dying branches.

Lantana is a serious problem in Northland, where it forms dense thickets that invade a wide variety of areas from native and exotic forests to domestic gardens, roadsides, sand dunes, quarries and wasteland.

Typically a low, scrambling shrub with small, colourful flowers, lantana can be poisonous to people and grazing stock. It has thorny stems, strong-smelling leaves, especially if they’re crushed, and produces fruit that’s attractive to birds, which then spread its seeds to uninfested sites.

Dr Dymock says the NRC was behind the original application to the EPA to import the rusts, part of a growing number of host-specific weapons in the council’s biocontrol arsenal.

She says it’s great to see the rust – a native of Brazil – making a noticeable dent in the local lantana population. Surprisingly, in Northland it appears to be damaging lantana especially well during late winter, something Dr Dymock attributes to the wetter conditions.

“Many people will be unaware that we have a range of more than two dozen biological control agents already in use in Northland, with even more likely to be available in the future.”

Biological control is the use of naturally-occurring enemies and diseases to control pests and weeds. A cost-effective and environmentally-friendly method of pest control, it’s not designed to eradicate a species; instead it aims to keep populations at low levels.

Dr Dymock says as well as fungi and bacteria, other biological control tools include an army of insects – including some which target other insects – and even tiny internal parasites.

However, she says the process from lowly insect or fungus to biological control agent is a painstaking, lengthy and initially costly one.

“The NRC typically spends at least $80,000 a year on biological control work and is part of a national group that collectively spends more than $600,000 on this annually.”

She says the first step in finding biocontrol agents is a survey of the natural enemies of the target weed or pest either here in New Zealand and/or overseas.

If no natural enemies of a target weed or pest are found in New Zealand then

potentially suitable overseas candidates from areas with a climate matching Northland’s must be extensively tested in a secure quarantine facility to determine whether they will attack any native New Zealand species or any species that is of economic value.

“Only when researchers are confident the potential biocontrol agent attacks just the target species alone, an application for release from quarantine is made to the EPA, followed by consultation with the public and stakeholders.”

Dr Dymock says it can take years from when an initial hunt for a biological control agent begins to when approval for its release is finally given.

She says those interested in learning more about biocontrol in Northland should visit www.nrc.govt.nz/biologicalcontrol

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