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Southern Downs growers embrace a green solution

ENDURING SUCCESS: Laurie Berlese and Peter Biddulph from Orchard Services monitor the progress of a local apple orchard.
ENDURING SUCCESS: Laurie Berlese and Peter Biddulph from Orchard Services monitor the progress of a local apple orchard. Emma Boughen

IN AN age when technology is here one day and gone the next, it's hard to imagine a technology going from strength to strength 25 years after its inception.

Developed in the mid-1980s by Warwick company Bio-Control and led by entomologist Dr Steven Sexton, the pheromone product Isomate-C (the female mating pheromone of the devastating codling moth pest) was among the first of its kind to be successfully trialled on a commercial scale.

The pheromone is a natural female scent that works by disrupting the mating patterns of the codling moth, the technology for which had been floating around for a while before it was finally picked up by Dr Steven Sexton and given real-world applicability.

"It had been successful as a research tool, in the lab and in low-pressure situations, but it hadn't really been proven in a warm climate on a big scale," horticultural consultant Stephen Tancred said.

"There were hurdles: they had to get the plastic technology, the rates per hectare and the monitoring right.

"Initially the pheromone released too quickly. Now the straps can release the pheromone for up to six months."

Mr Tancred and Shane Dullahide both worked with the then Department of Primary Industries at the time and were tasked with the job of trialling the technology in order to build farmer confidence in the product.

"In some cases, codling moth could cause anywhere between 50-90% crop destruction," Mr Dullahide said.

"We thought to ourselves, 'How do we give growers the confidence to stick a twisty top in their trees?'

"So we started putting them in orchards - there was one in Applethorpe and the other in Pozieres - and literally did counts of trapped moths. If the count was down to a certain number, the technology had done its job."

Though the first trials were done with the codling moth pheromone, integrated pest management (IPM) technology has proven effective across a host of other applications.

"It's not just codling moth we're taking soft approaches to. All the pest mites, we try and control them with predator mites, and in instances where those predatory mites are used, we have to be careful not to use any sprays that would upset them," Mr Tancred said.

"Pheromone release technology can also control light brown apple moth, and we're now looking into doing research on fruit fly control."

IPM technology has come a long way in 25 years, and Mr Tancred said some of the new products were promising.

"This technology is used on more than half of Australia's orchards. In Queensland alone we would estimate a maximum of approximately 70% of growers employing this technology," he said.

"Over the past 10 years we've been doing a lot of research on plant regulators that mimic the natural hormones inside plants.

"If we can use them strategically we can make crops more fruitful, sturdier to the environment, and we can control ethylene, a ripening hormone, which will allow us to slow down the ripening to preserve fruit quality.

"All in all it's made for a very exciting 10 years."

Though the technology has meant significant breakthroughs for the industry, it's not without its limitations.

"We can never eradicate a pest like the codling moth but we can manage it to a very low level in an environmentally friendly way," Mr Tancred said.

"Not every paddock suits this technology, but when used well and over a number of years, the population can drop to almost zero."

Mr Tancred attributed the enduring success of the IPM pheromone technology to its driving force - the consumers.

"Consumers want produce that's been produced in an environmentally friendly way, and this technology allows us to cut back on the use of pesticides," he said.

"That's what growers have responded to. They are really in tune with their consumers and they want their farms to be safe workplaces."

Topics:  growers horticulture orchards stanthorpe warwick