Harnessing ecological expertise to develop novel pest management approaches

Impact: Economic Impact, Environmental Impact, Public policy Impact, Social Impact

Impact story summary

Achieving food security whilst reducing dependence on non‐renewable, environmentally hazardous inputs is a significant problem facing humanity. In response, a Charles Sturt University research team led by Professor Geoff Gurr, has spent the last 22 years researching ecologically-based solutions. The key objective has been to reduce crop losses to pests that, globally, are responsible for destroying commodities sufficient to feed one billion people. Australian and international partners developed novel management approaches that lessen the use of synthetic insecticides, boost yields and benefit the environment.

In one project, companion planting approaches were developed to attract beneficial insects to rice fields. This suppressed pests so effectively that farmers reduced insecticide spraying by 70% whilst rice yield was increased, leading to a 7.5% income boost. Results changed policy and the method has been adopted widely across Asia, on over a million hectares in China alone where the benefits have been estimated at US $258 million. Related studies in Australia created benefits for commodities as diverse as cotton and softwoods with the vegetable industry currently backing the team with a million dollar grant to develop equivalent approaches here. 

RICE - Research commenced in 2008 following an invitation to Professor Gurr to participate in an International Rice Research Institute workshop to develop responses to devastating rice pest outbreaks. Laboratory and field studies were conducted in China, Vietnam & Thailand from 2009 to 2012. Work in each country included major universities and government departments giving wide reach to industry and community organisations. Initial work was supported by the Asian Development Bank with later funding by government schemes in each country that developed various multi-language, multi-format communications including a 20-episode TV series broadcast nationally in Vietnam to maximise delivery and ultimate impact.

COTTON - Research on the value to beneficial insects of non-crop vegetation was led by Charles Sturt and funded by the Australian cotton industry through the Cotton Catchment Communities Cooperative Research Centre (2007-2009). Work involved field studies on 20 NSW farms and has helped shift perceptions and industry practice.

CHEMICAL ECOLOGY - Research with an industry partner led to a novel crop protection product (Eco Oil) based on natural plant compounds to attract beneficial insects and is widely sold in Australia and exported. This involved international peers from the USA (Washington State University) and New Zealand (Lincoln University) along with Organic Crop Protectants Ltd. Research commenced in 2007 as an ARC Linkage project and ran for three years. It involved on-farm field trials of novel treatments in collaboration with multiple NSW growers of sweetcorn, brassica and wine-grapes.

FORESTRY - Research commenced in 2010 and extended the cropping work to the softwood industry that faced severe problems with exotic insect pests. This three year project used ARC Linkage funds and partnered with the peak industry organisation (The National Sirex Coordination Committee) and state/private forestry organisations across south-eastern Australia.

Widespread industry interest and international recognition has led to new projects across multiple crop systems such as coconut in Papua New Guinea and legumes in East Africa.
Category of impactEconomic Impact, Environmental Impact, Public policy Impact, Social Impact
Impact levelBenefit

Countries where impact occurred

  • Australia
  • China
  • New Zealand
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Viet Nam

Keywords

  • plant pests
  • biocontrol
  • ecooil
  • beneficial insects
  • cropping
  • companion planting
  • food security