Pirates of the carrot, bean

ARGHHH: Orius armatus, aka the pirate bug, feeds on its latest victim.
ARGHHH: Orius armatus, aka the pirate bug, feeds on its latest victim. DAFWA (Dept of Agriculture WA)

A SPECIES of tiny insect, notorious for its painful bite, is proving useful to vegetable growers in the fight against crop pests.

New Research and Development into Integrated Pest Management strategies has given vegetable growers a new weapon against insects in their crops.

AUSVEG spokesperson, Cameron Brown explained how the insect operates.

"The miniature pirate bug pierces a hole into its prey and pumps in saliva to dissolve the contents before drinking the innards," Mr Brown said. "With a ruthless temperament, it is a new tool for vegetable growers to substitute chemicals for softer production strategies."

AUSVEG is the national peak industry body representing Australia's 9000 vegetable and potato growers.

The 3mm-long insect, also known as Orius armatus, is named the "pirate" bug because of its large bite disproportionate to its small size.

New research has found that deploying the bug in capsicum crops dramatically reduces the need for growers to use chemicals to control pests.

"Orius armatus eats both the larvae and adults of western flower thrips, an insect known for damaging crops by both feeding and laying eggs on the plant," Mr Brown said.

Reported in the new edition of Vegenotes, a joint study between Manchil IPM Services, the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia and Biological Services Ltd, has shown that purpose-bred species of miniature pirate bugs can effectively control western flower thrips in vegetable crops.

The project aimed to investigate the efficacy of IPM in the Australian vegetable industry in an attempt to find alternatives to pesticide-based strategies against western flower thrips.

IPM is primarily concerned with controlling pests using beneficial insects rather than chemical treatments.

"Through the implementation of IPM strategies, growers in the study found that, once the flowering season began they did not have to spray at all, in striking contrast to the typical one or two times a week," Mr Brown said.

"IPM allows growers to mitigate some use of chemicals in their production cycle. The benefits will also extend to growers' back pockets, as their produce can be sprayed less frequently.

"IPM production methods don't work for all growers in Australia, but it is encouraging to see results like this that have been funded by the National Vegetable Levy."

This project has been funded by HAL using the National Vegetable Levy and matched funds from the FederalGovernment.

Topics:  biosecurity horticulture vegetable growers

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