Unleashing an aerial assault to combat vineyard pests

The NSW Government is supporting the state’s wine industry with time-efficient biological pest management using drone technology.

Millions of native Australian mites have been unleashed via drone across vineyards in the Orange region to attack unwanted pest mites that can have a devastating effect on vines by stunting growth and impacting photosynthesis.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Development Officer – Viticulture, Darren Fahey, said the project is funded by the NSW Government in partnership with Wine Australia.

“DPI has been going out and inspecting vineyards with local growers, and we noticed there was a lot of mite damage,” Mr Fahey said.

“Coming out of the drought, pest mites had dominated the populations and the beneficial mites had been reduced so it was decided to run a project that would build these native species back up.

“While biological pest control is nothing new, the application for releasing native mites has become much easier thanks to the use of drone technology.

“In the past vignerons would have to manually apply the mites by hand, but with the drone, they can finish a seven-hectare paddock in 45mins, saving them time and money.”

A six-blade drone is being used to unleash over 150,000 mites per cannister as part of the $40,000 two-year program.

“The mites come in a form of vermiculite and are then carefully released from the cannister as the drone flies low across the vineyard,” Mr Fahey said.

“Even if the mites fall to the ground, they know where their food source is, so they’ll travel straight up the vines and get to work.”

DPI is supporting industry growth through the adoption of efficient practices and technologies.

In 2020/21, the NSW Wine industry had a total estimated output of $255 million.

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