ID fingerprinting technology detects specific pests, helping farmers reduce their confidence in chemicals

High-tech capture is helping producers catch invasive pests and is reducing confidence in chemicals.

The fly trap technology uses the same fingerprint ID as the smartphone to be designed to detect specific pests and is designed to help manage fruit flies in Australia.

The device uses a traditional lyre to attract the fruit fly to the chamber, but what happens when the insect pest is inside is what sets it apart from a typical fly trap.

Nancy Schellhorn, CEO of Rapid Aim, the company behind the sensor trap, says that as the insect enters the trap, it interacts with the sensors.

“And it’s the size, shape, and behavior of insects that we then write algorithms to find out if we’re interested in identifying and detecting them, or distinguishing them for insects that don’t fit into the device.” he said.

“The information is sent in real time to the manufacturer on their mobile app so they can see what’s going on with the pests on their farm.”

The data collected can be used to target specific areas of fruit fly cultivation.(Equipped)

Pest control technology

David De Paoli uses a sensor capture system on his chili farm in Bundaberg, Queensland.

“I love technology,” Mr. De Paoli said.

Photograph of a man smiling in front of the farm.
David De Paoli started planting and exporting chilli 25 years ago.(ABC landline: Courtney Wilson)

AustChilli is the largest pepper farm in the country and one of the largest suppliers of pepper and avocado products in Southeast Asia.

But growing Bundabergen crops has some challenges. The Queensland fruit fly is an invasive pest in a very active area.

Mr. De Paoli says the introduction of sensor traps in his agricultural work has changed many pest management practices.

“We can see them in real time; every time a fly flies out of a trap, we know ‘Hey, there are 10 in that corner, but there are 50 in that corner.'”

This information allows the grower to focus on where and when to spray fruit flies. It is hoped that this may lead to a reduction in the use of chemical knowledge, as its application may be more specific.

Photo of a man growing peppermint.
Mr. De Paoli says he loves technology and how it helps him keep his farm on track.(ABC landline: Courtney Wilson)

“They never attack the whole area,” Mr. De Paoli said.

Manual traps are not accurate

Traditionally, fruit flies were managed through manual capture and monitoring, a system that was labor-intensive and not particularly accurate.

Isaiah Gala, an assistant agronomist at the AustChilli farm, says they used to use containers with a pheromone to attract pests.

Red peppers in a plastic box.
AustChilli is the largest pepper mill in Australia.(ABC landline: Courtney Wilson)

“Now we can click on a trap and Google Maps will appear and show us exactly where it is.

“For example, last week we had 53 flies on our Douglas farm, and we had 141 mm of rain, and that number tripled.”

It may be a small science behind being a better farmer, but it can have a big impact.

Ms. Schellhorn says a lot of chemical sprays are wasted.

“In the U.S., the equivalent of 230 jumbo jets filled with pesticides is sprayed into the landscape every year,” he said.

Photograph of a woman smiling in a science lab.
Nancy Schellhorn is a former CSIRO scientist who specializes in insect ecology.(ABC landline: Courtney Wilson)

Detection of other pest species

Beyond fruit flies, technology captures and models behaviors to provide data for the detection of other pest species.

“For most breeders, it’s usually one or three major plagues that cost the most money,” Schellhorn said.

The next step in the investigation is to go beyond the catch: to put the plague to work to kill others of its kind.

Photo of a pepper in a paddock in Bundaberg.
Growing peppers is big business in Bundabergen, Queensland.(ABC landline: Courtney Wilson)

“With our new 2nd generation product, we no longer catch pests,” Ms. Schellhorn said.

“What happens is that the plague enters, it is attracted to a sedge. Once it enters the attic, it begins to take on biocontrol. Biocontrol can be a spore, a spore of fungi.

It will open in the Lockyer Valley of Queensland in October, and its primary target is an invasive and very expensive autumn worm.

“So we’re very excited now that it’s digital bio,” Ms. Schellhorn said.

“We have a role to play in reducing the chemical intensity of agriculture, and we know that we have a new technology and solutions and a paradigm shift that allows us to do that.”

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