Biopes­ti­cide re­search may save mil­lions

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

Re­search that could be worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to farm­ers is look­ing promis­ing in early re­sults. AgRe­search sci­en­tists are work­ing with Bal­lance Agri-Nu­tri­ents and government fund­ing to de­velop a new chem­i­cal-free biopes­ti­cide.

The Hamil­ton-head­quar­tered Crown re­search in­sti­tute said chem­i­cal-free in­no­va­tions would help New Zealand pro­duc­ers meet in­creas­ing in­ter­na­tional de­mand for pes­ti­cide-residue­free meat, dairy, fruit and other prod­ucts.

Bi­o­log­i­cally based so­lu­tions are also ex­pected to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

The main tar­gets of the biopes­ti­cide are the pas­tureeat­ing cater­pil­lars of the po­rina moth, which emerge in huge num­bers each spring and sum­mer. The po­rina is one of New Zealand’s most se­ri­ous pas­ture pests, cost­ing farm­ers mil­lions of dol­lars.

The biopes­ti­cide also kills the ‘‘no­to­ri­ously dam­ag­ing’’ grass grub, a ma­jor ap­ple or­chard pest – the bronze bee­tle – and other glob­ally prob­lem­atic crop pests in­clud­ing the di­a­mond­back moth, white but­ter­fly, ja­panese bee­tle and lo­custs, AgRe­search said.

The biopes­ti­cide was a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring bac­terium, Yersinia en­to­mophaga (or Ye).

It was dis­cov­ered in a grass grub corpse dur­ing a search for al­ter­na­tives to chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides such as organophos­phates, which were be­ing phased out, said re­search leader, Dr Mark Hurst, of AgRe­search.

‘‘The bac­terium is very good at killing a large va­ri­ety of in­sects, es­pe­cially bee­tles and moths.

‘‘It doesn’t, how­ever, harm earth­worms, hon­ey­bees or other ben­e­fi­cial or­gan­isms that we’ve checked.’’

The process to reg­is­ter the pes­ti­cide with food safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tors is un­der way, and gen­er­ally took sev­eral years, Hurst said.

A com­mon con­cern with pes­ti­cides was that tar­get pests would be­come re­sis­tant to them, such as hap­pened with the biopes­ti­cide Bt ( Bacil­lus thuringien­sis).

How­ever, be­cause Ye uses sev­eral dif­fer­ent meth­ods to kill in­sects, Hurst said he be­lieved it was ex­tremely un­likely in­sects could de­velop re­sis­tance.

A novel biopes­ti­cide prod­uct based on Ye is be­ing ex­plored with in­dus­try part­ner Bal­lance Agri-Nu­tri­ents, with Bal­lance pro­vid­ing in­vest­ment and com­mer­cial ex­per­tise.

‘‘While it’s early stage re­search, there’s no doubt the devel­op­ment of new bi­o­log­i­cally based so­lu­tions for pas­ture pest con­trol has con­sid­er­able eco­nomic and pro­duc­tion po­ten­tial,’’ Bal­lance spokesman War­wick Catto said.

Fund­ing for the Ye re­search was from the Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment Min­istry, as well as the Pri­mary Growth Part­ner­ship Fund and Sus­tain­able Farm­ing Fund.

In an­other col­lab­o­ra­tive project, AgRe­search se­nior sci­en­tist Dr Julie EverettHincks is lead­ing a re­search pro­gramme on lamb sur­vival, funded by Ovita, Beef + Lamb NZ farmer levies and AgRe­search.

The pro­gramme is look­ing at the ge­netic, ma­ter­nal and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors which in­flu­ence lamb sur­vival.

The work in­volves farm­ers con­tribut­ing pedi­gree, lamb­ing records and post-mortem in­for­ma­tion to a huge data­base with per­for­mance records of more than 200,000 lambs, Everett-Hincks said.

There are many pos­i­tive steps farm­ers can take to im­prove sur­vival, whether it is mon­i­tor­ing and main­tain­ing ewe body con­di­tion, al­lo­cat­ing more feed, pad­dock se­lec­tion or in­tro­duc­ing proven and more ac­cu­rate ge­net­ics through sire se­lec­tion, Everett-Hincks said.

RE­SEARCH: AgRe­search sci­en­tists with Bal­lance Agri-nu­tri­ents are de­vel­op­ing a new chem­i­cal free biopes­ti­cide.

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