Friday, January 27, 2017

Exotic Invasive Ants

Exotic invasive ants

24 January, 2017
The Plant Biosecurity CRC is involved with stakeholders around the country in tackling the problem of exotic invasive ants. Here is an overview about the problem in Australia.

The invasive ant problem

Exotic invasive ants are an environmental and social amenity pest with the potential to cause significant negative impacts on Australia’s unique biodiversity and to human health. Australia’s National Biosecurity Committee has identified exotic invasive ants as high priority, and they have been placed on the national priority pest list endorsed by the Plant Health Committee.
There are many types of exotic invasive ant species which have been detected in Australia. Those that are of most concern include:
  • Yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes)
  • Tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata)
  • Electric ant (Wasmannia auropunctata)
  • Argentine ant (Linepithema humile)
  • African Big-Headed ant (Pheidole megacephala)
  • Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta)
  • Browsing ant (Lepisiota frauenfeldi)
These ants can transform ecosystems, deplete insect life from an area and even kill small animals. Economically invasive ants can compromise eco-tourism and recreation, reduce crop yields and lead to the death of farm animals. The economic costs associated with control programs are substantial – the national cost of the red imported fire ant control program in Queensland has amounted to almost $330 million over a 16 year period.
Red imported fire ants attack ground-nesting bird chicks as they try to peck their way out of their eggs. Photo credit: Brad Dabbert,

A dead gecko being dragged away by yellow crazy ants. Photo credit: Dinakarr (CC0), via Wikimedia


The entry pathways for exotic invasive ants include sea and air cargo, imported machinery, shipping containers, nursery stock imports, international mail, imported scrap metal and air passenger baggage; however there are activities being undertaken to minimise the risk of incursions and to review current border control measures.
There are now eight separate exotic invasive ant eradication programs underway in Australia. Yellow crazy ant is considered established in Australia, and so not able to be eradicated, and is managed by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy.

National plan

The National Biosecurity Committee has agreed to the development of a national plan to prevent, prepare and respond to exotic invasive ant incursions and detections. This includes the establishment of a national surveillance program.
Achieving this requires the development of a comprehensive research, development and extension plan to identify and address gaps in research needs. Additionally, the plan will support decisions around allocation of resources for effective exotic invasive ant surveillance operations and the development of risk-based approach to surveillance.
Ant specialists from agriculture and environment agencies, researchers, international experts and the Invasive Species Council met in November 2016. This workshop was the first meeting of Australian and international experts to develop a national Tramp Ant Biosecurity Plan and to identify key research needs for national surveillance activities.
The workshop was organised by the Plant Biosecurity CRC on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in response to the increasing number, currently eight, of emergency response plans underway for exotic invasive ants.
The next step will be the compilation and analysis of the outputs from the workshop to be used in the development of a draft national biosecurity plan for exotic invasive ants. The draft plan will be considered by the National Biosecurity Committee in early 2017.
You can read the communique from the workshop here.
The item above came from the CRC on Biosecurity.
This is very relevant across northern Australia, including many urban areas.  Vigilance in managing ants is vital.
However, while there are some excellent products available to really knock over colonies of ants through accumulation of insecticides in the nest, so many homeowners and property managers do not take that step to actually do it. The process is relatively easy and small amounts of insecticides do a great job.

Watch out for denuded areas, often a sure sign of established colonies - in urban areas it can be denuded areas of turf / grass.  Closer inspection usually shows ant access spots or nests.  Then add modest amounts of suitable ant bait.  And watch for more!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

China Bans 100 of Current Golf Courses

It might seem strange to western democratic society, but the Peoples' Republic of China has now banned 100 of the existing cohort of Golf Courses - gone, no longer available!

There had been some prior "noise" about the issue but suddenly last week - it was announced this would actually happen.  Golf courses are reputedly numbering around 693 in China, with many developed after 2004.

I saw it mentioned in Singapore media, where there is also some activity on this issue, with the Singapore government recently announcing [ early January 2017] resumption of golf courses near Jurong for new transport developments, to occur from 2018, hence their interest.

However, the Asian media more broadly quickly picked up on the Chinese moves with a number of articles appearing in on line searches.

The story goes somewhat like this - 

China has launched a renewed crackdown on golf, closing 111 courses in an effort to conserve water and land, and telling members of the ruling Communist Party to stay off the links.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency said Sunday the courses were closed for improperly using groundwater, arable land or protected land within nature reserves. It said authorities have imposed restrictions on 65 more courses.
China banned the development of new golf courses in 2004, when it had fewer than 200. Since that time, the number of courses has more than tripled.
Developers build courses under the guise of parks or other projects, often with the tacit approval of local officials. In one example chronicled by state media, an illegal golf course boasting 58 villas was originally built as a "public sports park," only to be secretly converted later. Many of China's cities, meanwhile, face severe land shortages and skyrocketing real estate prices.
Golf has also come under scrutiny by way of the sweeping anti-corruption campaign launched under Chinese President Xi Jinping. The ruling Communist Party warned its 88 million members in 2015 not to play golf, likening it to "extravagant eating and drinking" and other bad habits that were at odds with the party's stated principles. An editorial in the China Daily newspaper the following spring clarified that party cadres were not to take free memberships or rounds.

Golf boom beginning in '80s

China has veered over the years between rejecting and supporting golf. Amid a spirit of austerity and attacks on the country's former elites, Mao Zedong banned golf after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. One Shanghai golf course was turned into the city zoo.

Exactly when this occurs is unclear at this stage, but it seems it might be very soon!

Friday, January 20, 2017

The New Farmer in the New Agriculture

Toil is no longer king. To a large degree, agricultural success these days is reserved for those who have the time and capacity to figure out which technologies will benefit their farms the most and for those who can implement them in the best way possible.
In a climate-controlled cab, while listening to the Blue Jays game, a farmer can control a machine approximately the size of a small house with a simple joystick. He or she doesn’t need to steer because the machine does that by itself. The farmer has full control over the machine’s thousands of moving parts via a touchscreen monitor.
Most combines in circulation now are capable of threshing hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of crop per day. They are also capable of processing and displaying a phenomenal amount of information. The farmer knows exactly how many bushels per acre his or her combine is processing.
Farming has become a vocation for the detailed, the tech savvy, the geek. From seeding to spraying to harvesting, and all the minute processes in between, farms are relying on machines capable of gathering and processing awe-inspiring amounts of information.
A sprayer that increases dosage in areas of a field that are more disease-prone will increase yield potential, increase profits, and allow that plot of land to generate more food. It’s called variable-rate technology. And it’s only one example of the way farms have evolved into digital playgrounds to grow more food on a finite supply of acres, feeding a hungry market, and offsetting rising land prices. 
Companies such as Case IH, John Deere, Caterpillar, and many others have invested millions (if not billions) in developing cutting edge technologies previously used in military applications for the agricultural market.
In many ways it’s a brave new world. And an intimidating one.
Robotics will find their way onto farms sooner than you and I think. Technology is advancing at a pace advantageous to those waiting for what’s new to become affordable.
In 2014, Grainews reported on ag-based technology that involved an advanced drone mapping a farmer’s field for specific weeds then sending that data to a fleet of unmanned tractors that would use it to locate and kill specific weeds on the field.
When such technologies become accessible to farmers like, say, me, the farmer will be nearly unrecognizable from a generation ago. And while I’m loath to call technological advancements progress without looking at them critically, I do believe that machinery allowing us to be more precise and effective in our use of chemicals is a good thing.
In August 2016, Case IH unveiled an unmanned, autonomous, high-horsepower tractor, a first for the industry. Previous attempts at robotic tractors were on smaller machines. The company has expressed its desire to market this technology to farmers.
Right now, on my farm, the tractors we use the most steer themselves. Our combine is a constant learning curve. And what we have is old. The return on investment for a farm this size must be high and nearly immediate for us to consider purchasing the kinds of technology the ag industry would consider new.
What is accessible and has my undivided attention is the use of drones for basic agronomy. While there are drones available for mapping and some even have the capacity to spray weeds themselves, my interest in them is much more pedestrian: field scouting.
To fly a video drone over areas I can’t access via truck, tractor or atv could be a valuable exercise.
Last spring, gophers ate a few acres of my then newly planted soybeans. This problem was new to me. I did what I could to mitigate the damage once an agronomist helped me determine what the problem was (it bewildered a lot of people), but the result was a loss of about two acres, which, at last year’s yields and prices, equaled a loss of more than $1,000.
In the southwest corner of the field, in an area I couldn’t get to nor see, gophers kept eating, a problem I only took stock of once combining.
Had I scouted that field and that area with an entry-level drone capable of taking video or stills, it would have paid for itself.
Toil is still very much a part of any successful farm, but in many ways it’s taking a back seat to buttons, switches, programs, and monitors. This means increased precision and less waste. And it means increased food production on a finite amount of land.
Next time you see a farmer, thank them, then assume they are handling technologies that put most things in your house to shame.
This appeared in the Financial Post in the Agriculture section on 9 January 2017 written by Torban Dyck. The link is here - 
It is a summary of the technology now appearing in modern agriculture on the farm, and together with some pretty smart genetic progress occurring and not all GM either, it is the future of agriculture NOW.  When you combine these trends with increasing attention directed towards food waste and similar post harvest actions, a vision of agriculture actually feeding the world with less land of lower quality may not be so far fetched.  When you also add the stuff being done with inside hydroponics and automated and robotic vegetable production it sure adds to technology in agriculture and horticulture.
And this technology is hopefully also encouraging some of the smart minds around the youth of today to consider agricultural science as a career.  It is not such a bad choice - plenty of science and technology and a chance to be outdoors at least some of the time!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Zoysia Seed Availability - Australia 2017

Delay and more delay, it seems.  

Christmas holidays and bad weather in the US have been part of the issue too, but not the only problem.  It is not at the Australian end!! 

However, rumours are around that both Zenith and Compadre zoysia seed should be available for sale in Australia by February 2017.

More detail expected over the next two weeks.

If interested in zoysia seed for planting this season we can assist with emailed pdf information sheets, sowing rates and fertiliser rates  - all the detail needed for a successful lawn sowing.

And remember........moisture management during the initial 2-3 weeks is absolutely critical for a successful zoysia planting, including " during the daylight hours" short bursts of water to keep the surface damp [ not super wet] every few hours for a few minutes [ time dependent on irrigation set up].  This prevents the slow germinating seed from dehydration, as it is close to the hot surface of the soil to ensure adequate light during germination.

For larger areas, hydroseeding may be a good option to consider, as the carrier material does help hold moisture near the seed.

UPDATE on 1 February 2017 - A significant issue has occurred.  A banned weed has been found in all lines of varieties being considered for import to Australia.  Recleaning, resampling and retesting will occur in the near term by the exporter.  A delay of at least 3-4 weeks is likely, maybe longer.  

There is no guarantee the recleaning will be successful.

At best..........check back after mid February.  We will try to keep you updated as information is made available. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

‘Gene-silencing’ technique - game-changer for crop protection?

Researchers at the University of Surrey and University of Queensland have developed a revolutionary new crop protection technique which offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to genetically-modified crops and chemical pesticides.

The breakthrough research, published in Nature Plants, could have huge benefits for agriculture and positively impact communities around the world. Plant pests and pathogens are estimated to reduce global crop yields by 30 to 40 per cent a year, constraining global food security. At the same time, the need for higher production, regulatory demands, pesticide resistance, and concern about global warming driving the spread of disease all mean there is a growing need for new approaches to crop protection.

The researchers have found that by combining clay nanoparticles with designer ‘RNAs’ (molecules with essential roles in gene biology), it is possible to silence certain genes within plants. The spray they have developed – known as BioClay – has been shown to give plants virus protection for at least 20 days following a single application. When sprayed with BioClay, the plant ‘thinks’ it is being attacked by a disease or pest insect and responds by protecting itself.  With virus diseases commonplace in many field crop and vegetable crops, this could be a huge breakthrough - essentially immunising plants when a disease threatens.

The latest research overcomes the instability of ‘naked’ RNAs sprayed on plants, which has previously prevented them from being used effectively for virus protection. By loading the agents on to clay nanoparticles, they do not wash off, enabling them to be released over an extended period of time before degrading.

The BioClay technology, which is based on nanoparticles used in the development of human drug treatments, has a number of advantages over existing chemical-based pesticides. Since BioClay is non-toxic and degradable, there is less risk to the environment and human health. It can also be used in a highly targeted way to protect crops against specific pathogens.

Professor G.Q. Max Lu, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey and co-author of the research paper, said: “This is one of the best examples of nanoparticles being effective for biological molecular delivery with a controlled release rate for combating diseases in plants or animals. The same nanoparticle technology invented and patented in my laboratory at the University of Queensland was used for effective targeted drug delivery. It was licensed to an Oxford-based pharmaceutical company and is now being commercialised for drug development.”

“I am very pleased to see the exciting results of this project and the publication of our research in the prestigious Nature Plants journal.”

The research paper, ‘Clay nanosheets for stable delivery of RNA interference as a topical application to protect plants against viruses’ is published in Nature Plants on 10 January 2017.

The research was led by researchers Professor Neena Mitter and Professor Gordon Xu at the University of Queensland in collaboration with Professor Lu of the University of Surrey. 

While field trials been conducted successfully, a lot more field and lab research will be needed to reach the goal of regulatory approvals and have the technique used widely. 

More at