Expert helps out shire’s olive growers
AN INTERNATIONALLY renowned expert in olive tree diseases visited Indigo Shire olive growers earlier this month to help identify and manage a potential killer bug discovered in the region. Known as the olive lace bug – native to Australia – it was identified in the Hunter Valley in NSW close to two decades ago, and is now found in most olive growing areas around the nation except in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Beechworth Olives grower Esther Townes said growers in the North East who realised they had a problem turned to plant pathologist and consultant Dr Vera Sergeeva from Sydney for help. “Dr Sergeeva leads with answers to help growers with identification and managing problems,” she said.
With the problematic use of chemical sprays, Ms Townes said Dr Sergeeva could suggest organic methods from her international research and experience.
With a 27-year research career in pest and disease management, Dr Sergeeva said close to two decades had been spent with a focus on olives and grapes where she worked with olive growers around the nation as well as overseas.
“The olive lace bug is one of the most common olive pests that is only found in Australia,” she said.
She said the bug hit other olive growing areas across Australia through itinerant workers and where harvest machines may not be cleaned when travelling to different groves.
The practice spread other pests and diseases as well that infected interstate olive crops.
Other causes included windblown bugs into crops from forests, within a grove, from tree to tree or nearby groves, and from nurseries where there had been plant movement.
Dr Sergeeva said the parasitic sap-sucking bug rated an equal first with an olive disease known as the brown or black scale that threatened the country’s multi-million dollar olive industry.
“The bug is exponentially reproduced up to four generations in a year,” she said.
Rising Sun Olive Grove grower, Terry Hayes said the overuse of chemical insecticides in the olive growing industry as well as the effects of climate change had contributed to the problem.
Olive groves visited on the field day in the North East were Gooramadda, L’Oliveriae and Mt Sugarloaf (Beechworth Olives).
Dr Sergeeva visited Wooragee Primary School to investigate affected olive trees as well as Wodonga TAFE where olive trees were used for teaching tools by its Department of Horticulture and Agriculture.
Dr Sergeeva delivered a fascinating talk to Wooragee primary school students about health benefits of olive trees, olive oil and where tooth brushes could be made from young tree branches too.
Among her extensive research, Dr Sergeeva was invited to work on a project called ‘Sustainable Pest and Disease Management in Australian Olive Production’ with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) in 2001. She has published a field guide to assist olive producers to reduce reliance on chemical use in olive groves.
PEST DISCOVERY: International expert in olive tree diseases Dr Vera Sergeeva inspects the olive lace bug found on leaves of olive trees with Wooragee primary school students Douglas Gladstone (left), Abbie Gladstone, Logan Carter and head school gardener Owen Gemmell last month.