Wednesday, 23 February 2011 13:07

Cockchafers under attack

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A new scanning device fitted to a four-wheel motorbike could revolutionise the way landholders   plan their attacks on red-headed cockchafers.

The pest costs affected-Gippsland farmers an estimated $115,500 each a year – adding up to millions of dollars for the Victorian dairy industry.

However, a specifically-designed remote sensing unit – fitted onto a quad bike – can now detect changes in electrical conductivity in grasses, and researchers believe these changes could indicate heavy infestations of red-headed cockchafers in the soil.

GippsDairy executive officer Danielle Auldist says early detection of infestation will allow farmers to break the breeding and development cycle of the insect.

“Up until now, the only way to tell if you had an infestation was to grab a shovel and start digging,” Auldist says. “If this trial is successful, it will allow farmers to identify where heavy infestations are and deal with the problem by ripping up the ground and destroying the grubs.”

DPI entomologist Dr Kevin Powell, who is leading the research project, hopes to identify traits in pasture that indicate cockchafers are present. The Rutherglen scientist says the first stage of trials, which were conducted recently on Gippsland farms, would be followed-up this month to check how accurate the data is.

Researchers are investigating soil properties in relation to the distribution of cockchafers.

Rohan Marriott, who farms on irrigated and dry land at Modella near Drouin, says early identification of infestations will need to be coupled with effective techniques of dealing with red- headed cockchafers.

Marriott says a heavy cockchafer attack two years ago, left him devastated financially and tested his resolve.

“Two years ago, they were across the whole farm, they didn’t discriminate between irrigated and non-irrigated paddocks – the whole farm basically copped it,” he says.

“The milk price had dropped, and we had to over-sow the whole farm; so we lost production and the cost of bringing in feed hurt.”

The project has been a GippsDairy initiative, using dairy levy funds to utilise scientists from CSIRO, Dairy Australia, DPI, Melbourne University, Latrobe University and Australian National University.

Part of the project involves farmers packaging and posting cockchafers to researchers for further examination.

GippsDairy is asking Gippsland farmers to dig up a small patch of soil where they believe a red- headed cockchafer infestation has occurred.

If grubs or adult beetles are present in the soil sample, they should be dug out and placed in a plastic container with a mixture of 70 per cent methylated spirits and 30 per cent water for at least two days. The liquid can then be drained and the specimen can be wrapped in tissue paper.

Samples can be posted to GippsDairy at PO Box 1059, Warragul, 3820, with details of when and where the cockchafers were collected.

A survey is also being conducted – with information being sought from farmers – on the extent and severity of cockchafer problems on their land. Details of the survey are available at www.gippsdairy.com.au

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