Little helpers: Bowen’s driving force in beneficial insects
A LEADER in the introduction of beneficial insects in Bowen has just been recognised for his work to help growers produce cleaner yields.
Dale Abbott, who started Bowen Crop Monitoring Services with his late wife Sally 39 years ago, has seen the uptake of beneficial insects climb since they were introduced in the area 10 years ago.
Now he estimates 80-90 per cent of tomato growers in the Bowen district use some form of insect releases.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed as Mr Abbott was named a regional winner in the productivity category for the 2020 Syngenta 2020 Growth Awards.
Using his background in plant protection and integrated pest management, he helps horticultural growers in the Bowen and Burdekin areas.
"For the past 10 years we've been looking at basically less reliance on chemical control and looking at other methods such as biological control," he said.
"Over that period we were directly involved in developing biological pest management in a range of crops and especially silverleaf whitefly in tomatoes."
Silverleaf whitefly has a rapid life cycle, which means this major pest can build up quickly in susceptible crops.
However, Mr Abbott said beneficial insects such as the parasitic wasp, eretmocerus hayati, in combination with other control methods, helps keep silverleaf whitefly at bay.
The result is a higher clean yield of produce.
"Biological control takes the pressure off our chemical options, stops resistance building up because we're not frequently spraying with insecticides," Mr Abbott said.
"So we're able to control the main insect pests with releases.
"It's very rewarding because not only are we preserving our industry but our growers are able to, by the use of integrating biological control in their overall spray programs, are able to present to the market and the consumer a cleaner quality product."
While beneficial insects are supporting produce, Mr Abbott said the industry was facing other challenges.
The importation of produce, market restraints, maintenance of quality assurance and sourcing labour are major challenges growers face now and in the future, he said.
"When we started 40 years ago there were probably about 50 tomato growers in this area and now there's less than 10," he said.
"Admittedly, that 10 produce quite high production than what was around 40 years ago.
"But I don't think the consumer realises if they don't support our domestic local growers, they will disappear, it's not an industry where there's people coming into it every year.
"Once we lose the experience and the technology that these growers have today, you'll never be able to replace it."
Sourcing labour during the COVID-19 pandemic is also set to be a major challenge next season.
But Mr Abbott said this year had demonstrated the resilience of growers in the Bowen and Burdekin regions.
"We've actually had quite high production period this season," he said.
"Our horticulture growers are very adaptable to changing market conditions and it's proven this year once again why we are the major winter production area.
"I put that down to our growers being able to rapidly change to meet market conditions, they're very skilled and very good in their production, that's for sure."
Mr Abbott said being recognised as a regional winner in the 2020 Growth Awards was a nice surprise.
He was one of two regional winners from Bowen, as Prospect Agriculture adviser Chris Monsour was also a winner in the sustainability category.
"It's nice to be recognised for one's input into the industry," Mr Abbott said.
The regional winners will now progress to the next stage of judging, with overall winners set to be announced early next year.