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April 4, 2014

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is embarking on a new research program to help address one of the most significant biosecurity threats to Australian horticulture.

An innovative control initiative targeting Queensland fruit fly (Qfly) has been developed by Dr Olivia Reynolds and her team at the DPI’s Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute.

“We have established an Area Wide-Integrated Pest Management (AW-IPM) program that incorporates the sterile insect technique (SIT), to specifically target the breeding cycle of this major pest,” Dr Reynolds said.

“SIT is a method of biological control, where we release large numbers of sterile insects that compete with fertile insects to mate, which effectively reduces the overall population. It is an environmentally benign and cost-effective control option.”

Dr Reynolds said Qfly feeds and breeds on a variety of fruit and vegetable crops and is recognised as one of the key biosecurity pests threatening horticulture in NSW and Australia.

“This new AW-IPM SIT program is not only a preventative control option but is intended to have a positive impact on society by improving the quality of horticultural products at a lower cost, while protecting the environment and human health,” Dr Reynolds said

“Chemical controls are increasingly coming under scrutiny due to environmental and health concerns and we have responded to the need to find alternate ‘softer’ in-field control options for Qfly by incorporating the SIT in an AW-IPM program.”

Dr Reynolds said similar programs world-wide have successfully incorporated the SIT to control fruit flies and include prevention, containment, eradication and suppression of the pests.

“This program will operate on several properties, growing mostly Summerfruit, in a uniquely geographically isolated area away from urban centres in south-eastern Queensland near the New South Wales border,” Dr Reynolds said.

“Such a program is directly relevant to many fruit growing regions, including those in NSW, such as parts of the Murray Valley who share a similar climate and have low Qfly pressure.

“In contrast, conventional control methods have a narrow focus protecting crops from direct attack by pests.”

Dr Reynolds said it’s hoped the program will deliver a reduction in the fruit fly population as well as a reduction in pesticide use.

“Other benefits of this project may include protection of the health of farm workers, reduced environmental costs through reduced insecticide residues in fruit, water reservoirs and soil and strengthening research and development support of the stone fruit industry,” Dr Reynolds said.

This project forms part of the SITPlus initiative led by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Horticulture Australia Limited, Plant and Food Research, DPI and Regions South Australia and NSW DPI. This project has been funded by Horticulture Australia Ltd using voluntary contributions from the ‘Trap Rock’ growers, and funds from the Australian Government.

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