Shock Funding Let Down

It’s a shock to learn that R&D funding has been declined for an exciting IPM program that promises to deliver significant economic and environmental benefits to consumers, growers and ecological systems. The IPM program has been investigating the implementation of a strategy to control Western Flower Thrips (WFT) and Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV) in greenhouse capsicum crops and is on the cusp of delivering significant outcomes. Since WFT first arrived in Australia in 1993, it and TSWV have caused major economic problems in many vegetable crops around Australia. Capsicum growers particularly are increasingly unable to control this pest due to its resistance spectrum to available insecticides.

In 2009/10 a preliminary biocontrol trial was conducted under grower and industry voluntary contributions, and matched by taxpayer dollars to a total value of approximately $40,000. The trial aimed to achieve and demonstrate control over WFT and TSWV using a new native predator, Orius armatus. The Orius predator is significant because of its ability to predate on adult thrips before they can breed or spread TSWV in the crop. This trial demonstrated that Orius did have the potential to control WFT.

The grower and biocontrol consultants were keen to conduct another trial, believing success with WFT and TSWV was imminent with a few adjustments to the strategy. Funding was sought for a second trial in which the crop planting time would be delayed by 4-6 weeks to achieve longer day length and Orius release rates increased. In Nov/early Dec 2010 a proposal for a further modestly-sized trial (total value approx $60,000) was prepared and submitted via Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL) to the Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee (IAC). However, due to the economic imperative for the grower, who was sustaining substantial losses despite using pesticides, this second trial began before the result of the funding application was known. Results from the second trial were stunning, with a reduction in crop losses from 60% or more to just 0.3%! It was then a shock to hear that funding had been declined.

This is part of a worrying trend of the Vegetable IAC sidelining IPM-related projects, despite pest and disease management being nominated high on the list of grower concerns. Why is this? Pesticides alone do not provide a sustainable outcome, as the capsicum WFT/TSWV issue clearly shows.

Commercial adoption of R&D that meets industry needs is the Holy Grail of all funded programs, yet now the industry is denied the opportunity to conduct further vital work, including investigation of the potential to use Orius and other biocontrol agents in the numerous greenhouse structures around Australia. There is currently no funding for extension of the achievements to date, and all businesses involved have extended themselves to the limit subsidising the work done so far. Currently, HAL is funding an investigation into peri-urban issues impacting on farmers on the Northern Adelaide Plains and the Sydney Basin. One major concern to the industry is residential sensitivity over pesticide use. Biocontrol provides an acceptable and much-needed alternative, and should be high on the agenda for funding.

See our story Greenhouse Capsicum IPM in this issue.

Steven Carruthers

PH&G May/June 2011 – Issue 118