Researchers cashed up for anti-pest campaign

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Up to $13 million has been allocated in grants to research bodies around Australia with new ideas for pest eradication

Up to $13 million has been allocated to fund research and developments into halting the impacts of invasive species of animal and plants around the country

 

Australia’s agricultural and environmental sectors will earn a reprieve against invasive and destructive flora and fauna following the latest round of grant allocations by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

In all, up to $13 million dollars has been allocated by the department to further combat and reduce the impacts of invasive species of animals and plants around the country – something which continues to pose significant threats to the country’s environment and economy, as well as industries such as agriculture, conservation and biosecurity.

In fact, figures indicate the annual cost to combat invasive pests around the country is estimated to be $800 million per annum for vertebrate pest animals and over $4 billion for weeds.

In all, it is hoped program will improve how established pest animals and weeds are managed through research and development for new or improved control solutions.

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud, says the successful applicants can make full use of new technologies to help establish more effective alternatives for solving Australia’s pest problem.

 "Successful projects will shift away from traditional pest animal and weed management approaches to develop new and emerging technologies," Minister Littleproud says.

"The grant round projects will assist in overcoming emerging issues such as herbicide resistance and provide more effective alternatives for controlling pests.

Among the groups successful in their grant applications was the University of Western Australia, which received the highest grant allocation at just under $2 million and will develop targeted tillage weed control in row-cropping systems.

UWA will collaborate with a host of project partners including the University of Sydney and precision agriculture experts Dalby Rural Supplies to further develop how weeds can be controlled in row-cropping systems, exploring avenues such as cultivation, herbicides, spot spraying, wide-row cropping and biological control.

Littleproud was excited by the potential the project possesses and noted the collaboration between partners will likely offer the best outcome.

"It’s great to see Dalby Rural Supplies teaming up with the University of Western Australia on this project to develop targeted tillage weed control in row-cropping systems," Littleproud says.

"Dalby Rural Supplies will contribute to the project by leading the field scale weed kill trials, and I look forward to hearing how this project goes."

The University of Melbourne too was afforded a sizeable grant cheque with over $1.39 million going toward developing technologies which could be essential for the future production of suppression gene drives, used to eliminate invasive pest populations.

The project will specifically target species of multiple vertebrate species such as invasive fish and the cane toad, which is among Australia’s most invasive species given its adaptability and competitiveness across a range of ecosystems.

Elsewhere, Macquarie University ($974,848.30) will explore insecticide resistant benefits of pest management and aim to develop practical and innovative solutions for the management of invasive species which are a continued threat to livestock.

Murdoch University ($791,882.00) will specifically focus on invasive ant species through developing artificial technology used for monitoring ant species; identifying those potentially harmful without manual screening processes.

The project will be led by Associate professors Melissa Thomas and Hamid Laga from Murdoch University, who say the threat of invasive ants on the agricultural industry cannot be understated.

"Invasive ants are one of the most serious biosecurity risks in Australia with six out of seven high priority invasive ants present in Australia ranked among the most notorious invasive pests globally," Thomas says.

"Without control measures, the economic damage of one of these species alone, the red imported fire ant, is estimated at more than $600 million per year to Australian agriculture."

In the agricultural space, $740,661.00 has been allocated to Graincorp Operations Limited, which will work with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to research and develop innovative grain refrigeration processes.

The developments will aim at exploring refrigeration techniques for grains in aim of disrupting the breeding of grain pests who have become increasingly resistant to insecticides.

Other institutes, government departments, councils and universities to receive grant funding will look to combat against plants and weeds such as invasive cacti and the prickly acacia while others, such as the $665,000+ allocated to Department of Regional New South Wales to look into virus delivery in rabbits, will focus on animals and their threat to ecosystems around the country.

In this space, steps will be taken to combat against invasive species such as the fall armyworm, hive beetles and the yellow crazy ant.

The grant round saw 197 applications submitted to the department where ultimately 19 successful projects were selected and awarded funding of between $300,000 and nearly two million dollars for their respective projects.

The grants form part of the Australian Government’s larger investment into pest solutions through the Established Pest Animal and Weed Management Pipeline Program which will see a total of $30.3 million invested over four years until 2024-25.

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