Aiming for the sky in cross-industry plant pest surveillance

Australia’s agriculture and horticulture industries have joined forces, developing a program to change the way airborne pests and diseases are detected.

The program, iMapPESTS: Sentinel Surveillance for Agriculture, will rapidly monitor and report the presence of particular, targeted airborne pests and diseases for all agricultural sectors, including forestry, viticulture, grains, sugar, horticulture and cotton.

The five-year program is being led by Horticulture Innovation Australia, with funding from the Australian Government well as 16 partner organisations, including FWPA.

The project involves building a custom-designed prototype ‘sentinel’ mobile surveillance unit, to offer optimal sampling of airborne fungal spores or insects. It’s expected that up to eight units will be built as part of the program and deployed at various locations across the country, beginning with one of South Australia’s premier cropping trials sites at Hart, north of Adelaide.

Samples captured by the sentinels will be sent to a laboratory for identification of target pests and diseases. The sentinels will also collect environmental data at the time of sampling, which will be married with pest and disease information and stored in a secure, cloud-based system to facilitate downstream reporting.

The CSIRO will use the data to develop a forecasting tool for pests and diseases, while Agriculture Victoria will use the samples to test new pest diagnostic techniques for the broadscale detection of exotic pests and diseases.

Information generated by the surveillance activities will be summarised and shared with end users to arm them with actionable information that will be used to improve productivity.

Industry body for vegetable and potato growers, AUSVEG, has collaborated with FWPA, the other RDCs and researchers to identify high priority pests and diseases that are likely to be targeted by the sentinels. Researchers at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) are currently working through the list to develop robust and sensitive detection methods for each of the targets.

Growers are encouraged to provide feedback on this project, including what information is important and relevant to their operations. 

You can contact FWPA to express your interest in the project and stay up to date on where and when the sentinels will be deployed.