Feature

Biosecurity plant to produce 50m sterile flies a week to wipe out pest

By John Merriman

- Last updated on GMT

Biosecurity plant to produce 50m sterile flies a week to wipe out pest

Related tags: Australia, Agriculture

Upgraded biosecurity measures to combat fruit fly will be introduced in Australia, bringing added confidence to international trade markets.

South Australia is the only mainland state in Australia that is free from fruit flies—a critical component of the state agriculture’s successful and expanding international export market.

A new national “sterile insect technology​” facility in Port Augusta, in the north of South Australia, will produce billions of sterile male fruit flies at the rate of 50m a week to help prevent the threat of the insect invading the state.

The new measures will help secure producers’ access to important citrus and almond export markets including the United States, New Zealand and Japan, worth more than A$800m (US$571m) this year.

The “sterile insect technique” introduces sterile flies into the environment that then mate with the wild population, ensuring offspring are not produced.

Macquarie University Associate Professor Phil Taylor said the fly, know as Qfly because they come from Queensland, presents the most difficult and costly biosecurity challenge to market access for most Australian fruit producers.

Fruit flies, especially the Queensland fruity fly, present a truly monumental challenge to horticultural production in Australia​,’’ he said.

For generations, Australia has relied on synthetic insecticides to protect crops, but these are now banned for many uses. Environmentally benign alternatives are needed urgently—this is our goal​.’

The impetus behind this initiative is to secure and improve trade access both internationally and nationally for South Australia​.

It will increase the confidence of overseas buyers in the Australian product and make Australia a more reliable supplier​.

Uncertainty or variation of quality of produce would obviously be a concern for our trading partners​.’’

South Australia’s agriculture minister, Leon Bignell, said the A$3.8m (US$2.7m) centre would produce up to 50m sterile male Qflies each week.

The state government has invested A$3 million, while Horticulture Innovation Australia has contributed the remained, with construction expected to take 10 months.

Producing male-only sterile Qflies has never been done before on this scale and this facility will have an enormous impact on the way in which we deal with outbreaks​.

Fruit fly management protects the commercial production of fruit and vegetables, including wine grapes and almonds, with an estimated farm-gate value of A$851m (US$607m).

South Australia is also the only mainland state which has a moratorium on growing GM food crops, and is one of the few places in the world free of the vine-destroying pest phylloxera.

Because of these attributes, South Australian products stand out in the competitive global market, which is increasingly seeking clean and safe food and wine​,” Bignell said.

The research partner consortium, SITplus, which brings together academic and public sector bodies, intends to invest about A$50m (US$36m) over the next five years to support the national fruit fly management programme.

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