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Wiping out pests without wiping out vineyards

In an international breakthrough for pest control, Australia scientists have developed a new way to wipe out invading pests of tree crops or vines – without having to destroy the crops.

“The usual way to control a major pest invasion in an orchard or vineyard is to dig up all the trees or vines and burn them,” explains the Chief Executive Officer of the CRC for National Plant Biosecurity (CRCNPB), Dr Simon McKirdy.

“This can cause heartbreak, destroy livelihoods and disrupt a whole industry. In the case of vines that may be 100 years old, the loss is irreplaceable. We decided there had to be a better way.”

A team of CRCNPB researchers led by Dr Mark Sosnowski of the South Australian Research & Development Institute (SARDI) has joined hands with their American plant biosecurity colleagues to run an offshore trial in which they have proved it is possible to exterminate a dangerous crop disease – without destroying the farm.

Their chosen target was a fungal disease not yet found in Australia, known as black rot – a devastating disease of vines.

“Our approach was to try out various disease control strategies in the field, under real life conditions,” Dr Sosnowski explains “As black rot does not occur in Australia, we had to do the final tests with the live disease in the US, where it is endemic.”

The researchers started their trials in Australia using a local fungal disease called black spot that behaves similarly to black rot. In the first year they cut the infected vines right back to the trunk and sprayed them, while litter on the ground was cleared and burned. This achieved 90 per cent control of the disease. READ MORE