IN AN AUSTRALIAN FIRST, researchers will be releasing pollinator flies in the Coffs Harbour biosecurity Red Zone in an effort to fortify close to 1500 hectares of berry crops in the area.
Growers in the region have experienced a dip in pollination services after the eradication of bees following Varroa Mite incursions, and this program will investigate whether flies, that are not attracted to food or humans, can be as effective.
Delivered through Hort Innovation and led by the University of New England and seedPurity, data will be collected from berry farms in the Varroa Mite Red Zone to understand how different flies pollinate berry crops and how growers could harness their behaviour.
Hort Innovation chief executive officer Brett Fifield said that the initiation of this program is an important part of Hort Innovation’s efforts into safeguarding pollination in Australia.
“Hort Innovation is committed to a range of programs to address pollination security, and off the back of the 2022 Varroa Mite incursion it is essential to directly address challenges growers are facing because of it,” Mr Fifield said.
“Coffs Harbour is the major berry growing region of Australia and has been significantly impacted by the Varroa Mite biosecurity response. Preliminary work through a previous Hort Innovation investment identified several flies as effective pollinators, so conducting this research in Coffs Harbour is an opportunity to take this research further.”
University of New England associate professor Dr Romina Rader said that harnessing flies could be an important part of a growers’ pollination “toolkit”.
“The aim is to provide growers with a range of options they can employ on their properties to encourage pollination by flies and other insects,” Dr Rader said.
“For example, we will investigate whether growing flowers other than berries on farms attracts wild pollinators for longer and supports the pollinators already in berry fields. We will also be investigating fly dispersal, retention, survival, and pollination efficiency within berries by a common fly species, Eristalis tenax.”
Dr Radar said that the fly E. tenax is already present in the Coffs Harbour area and has demonstrated its potential to pollinate berries in earlier trials.
Australian Blueberry Growers Association president Andrew Bell said the discovery of the Varroa Mite in the Coffs region has emphasised to industry that research into alternative pollination methods is more important than ever.
“The recent Varroa Mite incursion has highlighted the need for growers to have multiple pollination strategies up their sleeves for times like this. I am looking forward to in the outcomes of this research and learning about how we can encourage greater pollination by flies on berry farms.”
Hort Innovation is investing more than $61M into research and development projects that aim to enhance and protect pollination security in Australia – from ongoing work to protect honey bees to looking into alternatives like flies and native bees that are not affected by Varroa Mite as well as mechanical methods of pollination.