ID fingerprint technology detects specific pests, helps farmers reduce dependence on chemicals

The hi-tech trapping is helping growers target invasive pests and reduce dependence on chemicals.

The tech fly trap uses the same fingerprint ID as a smartphone to detect specific pests and has been designed to help manage the Australian fruit fly.

The device uses a traditional bait to lure the fruit fly into the chamber, but it’s what happens when the insect pest is inside that sets it apart from a typical fly trap.

Nancy Schellhorn, chief executive of Rapid Aim, the company behind the detection trap, says that when the insect has entered the traps, it interacts with the sensors.

“And it’s the size, shape and behavior of the insect that we then write algorithms to identify and detect it to know if that’s what we’re interested in, or separate it for insects entering the device that don’t interest us,” she said.

“The information is then streamed in real time to the grower on his mobile app, so they can see exactly what is happening with the pests on their farm.”

The data collected can be used to identify specific areas of fruit fly crops.(Provided)

Technology that defeats parasites

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

“I love technology,” said De Paoli.

Photo of a smiling man in front of the farm.
David De Paoli started growing and exporting chillies 25 years ago.(ABC Landline: Courtney Wilson)

AustChilli is the largest chili company in the country and one of the largest suppliers of non-perishable chili and avocados in Southeast Asia.

But growing crops in Bundaberg comes with some challenges. The Queensland fruit fly is a very active invasive pest in the area.

Mr. De Paoli says the introduction of detection traps in his farming business has significantly changed pest management practices.

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

This information allows the grower to pinpoint where and when to spray the fruit flies. The hope is that the knowledge can lead to a reduction in the use of chemicals, as its application can be more precise.

Photo of a man growing chillies.
Mr. De Paoli says he loves technology and how it helps keep his company on track.(ABC Landline: Courtney Wilson)

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

Inaccurate manual traps

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

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

Red chillies in a plastic box.
AustChilli is the largest chili farm in Australia.(ABC Landline: Courtney Wilson)

“Now we can just click on a trap and Google Maps pops up and shows us exactly where it is.

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

The science behind becoming better farmers may start small, but it has the potential for big impact.

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

“In the United States, about the equivalent of 230 pesticide-filled jumbo jets are sprayed on the landscape every year,” he said.

Photo of a smiling woman in a science lab.
Nancy Schellhorn is a former CSIRO scientist specializing in insect ecology.(ABC Landline: Courtney Wilson)

Detection of other pest species

In addition to fruit flies, the technology captures and models behaviors to provide data for detecting other pest species.

“For most growers, there are usually one to three key pests that cost them more,” Ms. Schellhorn said.

The next step in the research is to go beyond capture: put the parasite to work killing others of its kind.

Photo of chillies on a bush in a paddock in Bundaberg.
Growing chillies is big business in Bundaberg, Queensland.(ABC Landline: Courtney Wilson)

“With our new Gen 2 product, we are no longer trapping parasites,” said Ms Schellhorn.

“What happens is that the parasite enters, is attracted to a bait. Once it enters the chamber, it begins to collect the biocontrol. The biocontrol could be a spore, a fungal spore.

It will be launched in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley this October, with the first target being the invasive and extremely expensive Fall Army Worm.

“So we’re super excited because it’s biodigital now,” said Ms. Schellhorn.

“We are on a mission to reduce the chemical intensity of agriculture and we know we have the technology and solutions and a new paradigm shift that allows us to do so.”

Watch this story on landline or ABC iview.

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