Exploring novel technologies to take pest management to the next level

Author: | Date: 15 May 2020

image of green peach aphid
Crop losses from insects have been estimated at more than $350 million a year across the Australian grains industry, and certain pests are particularly problematic in terms of control, such as green peach aphid (pictured). Photo: Andrew Weeks, cesar

Scientists are investigating novel technologies and management strategies to control insect pests in Australian grain crops through a new research initiative.

The Australian Grains Pest Innovation Program (AGPIP) – an investment by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the University of Melbourne in collaboration with science research organisation cesar – is seeking to develop high impact, sustainable, and scientifically-tested pest management options.

Management of insect crop pests can present unique challenges for grain growers. Crop losses from insects have been estimated at more than $350 million a year across the Australian grains industry, and certain pests are particularly problematic in terms of control.

Key pests such as the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella), redlegged earth mite (Halotydeus destructor), corn earworm (Helicoverpa armigera) and green peach aphid (Myzus persicae) are becoming increasingly difficult to manage due to insecticide resistance, while other pest species are responsible for transmission of damaging plant pathogens that lead to plant disease and loss of plant vigour.

“AGPIP will be focused on developing novel tools to decrease disease transmission and pest feeding impact, forecast pest issues and enhance beneficial insect and chemical stewardship,” says Paul Umina, AGPIP program lead, from the University of Melbourne.

Data-driven tools to identify resistance trends and predict future resistance risks will be investigated through AGPIP.

“Insecticide resistance in key crop pests poses a significant risk to growers' pest control regimes,” says Associate Professor Umina.

“We will map resistance occurrences across Australia and the globe, and develop new diagnostic techniques to make identification of resistance easier and more accurate for major insect pests.”

One novel technology under investigation through AGPIP is endosymbionts – tiny micro-organisms that live inside other cells or organisms, which can influence an insect’s ability to transmit crop viruses or resist pesticides.

AGPIP researchers will investigate methods for manipulating endosymbionts to reduce virus transmission, lower direct feeding damage by aphids, and increase rates of parasitism and predation of key crop pests.

“By utilising novel technologies like endosymbiont manipulation and improving our ability to predict regional resistance risk, AGPIP has the potential to enhance control of insect pests in grains,” says Assoc Prof Umina.

Ultimately, AGPIP seeks to develop more sustainable and cost-effective pest management options, so growers have more confidence in their decisions and greater resilience within their farming systems.

Throughout the five-year project, the AGPIP team will be developing resources and tools to ensure its research is useful and directly applicable to Australian grain growers.

AGPIP is also offering several scholarships for doctoral or masters students interested in undertaking research projects focused on sustainability and agricultural innovation.

For further information about AGPIP, contact cesar extension scientist Francesca Noakes via fnoakes@cesaraustralia.com.

For details about student projects and scholarships, contact the Pest & Environmental Adaptation Research Group (pearg-queries@unimelb.edu.au) at the University of Melbourne.

AGPIP is a collaboration between the Pest & Environmental Adaptation Research Group at the University of Melbourne and cesar. The program is a co-investment by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the University of Melbourne, together with in-kind contributions from all program partners.

Contact Details

For Interviews

Paul Umina, University of Melbourne
03 9349 4723

Contact

Sharon Watt, GRDC Communications Manager – South
0409 675 100
sharon.watt@grdc.com.au

GRDC Project code: UOM1906-002RTX