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Shoo, fly! New world-leading facility opens to bolster fruit-fly defence

Publication date: 2 November 2016

Set to provide a powerful new line of defence against one of horticulture’s most damaging pests, this world-leading and game-changing $3.18 million National Sterile Insect Technology (SIT) fruit fly facility is located in Port Augusta, South Australia.

The facility is working at producing 50 million sterile male Queensland fruit flies (Qfly) each week, which will be strategically released in the growing regions of south-eastern Australia that are affected by the pest. The sterile flies will come to outnumber the wild male population in these areas, and by mating with wild females – and limiting the opportunity for wild males to do so – they are intended to lead to the collapse of wild Qfly populations.

Selwyn Snell, chairman of Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation), described the facility’s opening as a momentous Australian first. “This facility will put us on the world map in sterile insect technology,” he said, adding that in developing the facility, the researchers investigated similar international operations. “This vital centre now combines all the best aspects of that research, making it one of the most progressive and advanced in the world.”

South Australian Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell said that the facility has the potential to mitigate Qfly as a major pest problem, and increase grower returns. “Sterile insect technology has already been implemented with great success to combat Mediterranean fruit fly, however this will be the first time that [it] will be used to produce male-only Qflies to help prevent and combat Qfly outbreaks,” he said.

Qfly is one of the leading pests plaguing the Australian horticulture industry. Each year it is estimated to cost the industry more than $300 million in lost markets and damaged produce.

The SIT facility has been established by the South Australian Government and is backed by Hort Innovation. It’s just one part of the fruit-fly-focussed SITplus initiative – the $45 million, collaborative R&D program involving some of Australia and New Zealand’s leading research institutions, government agencies and industry partners.

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