Sentinel - a step towards national pest surveillance

The ‘Sentinel’ mobile unit is part of a nationwide R&D collaborative initiative between Australia’s major plant industries with the goal of developing a way to rapidly monitor and report the presence of airborne pests and diseases for multiple agricultural sectors, including viticulture, grains, cotton, sugar, horticulture and forestry.

The iMapPESTS: Sentinel Surveillance for Agriculture five-year program is a $21 million partnership, led by Hort Innovation, with funding from the Australian Government’s Rural R&D for Profit Program, as well as 16 partner organisations.

It will lay the foundations for a nationally coordinated approach to surveillance that will provide growers with information which could be used to guide the direction or intensity of scouting efforts and pest control actions. The system could also facilitate a coordinated response to biosecurity efforts during exotic pest and disease incursions, including use in delimiting surveys and proof-of-freedom claims.

A key feature of the program is the Sentinel, a custom-designed surveillance trailer unit designed to offer optimal sampling of airborne fungal spores and insects. A prototype Sentinel was launched at South Australia’s premier agronomic cropping site in Hart at the Hart Field Day in September. From there, the Sentinel was relocated to a research station in Nuriootpa, north-east of Adelaide, where it has been undergoing trials in plant pest surveillance in a viticulture region. It is then to head to major horticulture production areas in South Australia while it undergoes optimisation.

The Sentinel is the first of a series of the specialised surveillance units to be developed by Primary Industries and Regions South Australia’s research division, the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), as part of the iMapPESTS program. SARDI lead scientist Dr Rohan Kimber is guiding the technology partners in the development and construction of the Sentinels. Once developed, the units will be deployed in growing regions across the country with the capacity to mobilise in response to industry and government surveillance needs.

The mobile nature of the Sentinel unit enables the surveillance technology to provide localised information that impacts a specific region, which might not apply to growing regions in other parts of the country.

The Sentinel is equipped with several airborne samplers, power supply, a climate sensor, telemetry and an industrial computer to remotely control and monitor the unit, including automated robotics to change pots on the samplers according to the day or capture criteria.

The Sentinel features four different air samplers:

  • Two spore samplers, which are high-volume air samplers specifically designed to collect airborne spores
  • A two-metre insect suction trap to monitor localised insect dynamics
  • A six-metre insect suction trap, for monitoring of long-distance migratory insect flights
  • A BioScout system, a near real-time monitoring technology of fungal spores under collaboration.

The iMapPESTS team conducted surveillance activities at the Hart field site in spring. During this time, the pests and diseases detected by the Sentinel as present in the grains growing region were reported to stakeholders via the iMapPESTS website; however, the iMapPESTS pest priority list will report on pests and diseases relevant to multiple industries at any one site.

The iMapPESTS research and development network has compiled a list of high priority pests for each major agricultural sector, with a focus on targets that affect multiple industries (eg. light brown apple moth affects the viticulture and pome fruit industries). After the Sentinel captures airborne pests and diseases – including many long-distance dispersal insects such as aphids and thrips – the samples will be dispatched to SARDI laboratories for inspection.  The Sentinels are being optimised for new and established advanced diagnostics techniques developed by SARDI to identify and measure abundance of high-priority pests and diseases under surveillance. This research will expand the capacity of current airborne surveillance technology and diagnostic tools.

SARDI are examining the airborne samples captured by the Sentinel using highly specific and sensitive molecular techniques and assays which have been designed for the targets of interest. While this method of diagnostics is routine for pathogens, pests are traditionally identified by entomologists using morphological characteristics to identify species within samples. This is time consuming and in times of incursion or high pest and disease pressure, a timely response can make all the difference. The research and development of the application of these advanced techniques to pests will speed up identification and reporting, putting accurate, actionable information in the hands of growers to enhance pest management.

Meanwhile, some of the samples captured by the Sentinel are also being sent to Agriculture Victoria, which will investigate the application of new pest diagnostic techniques for the broadscale detection of exotic pests and diseases using next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, which will be particularly useful in mixed population samples captured by the Sentinels. NGS sequencing means there will be high throughput capacity for pest and disease diagnostics.

This research will establish an NGS pipeline – samples collected in-field through to analysis – that will be made available to industry, as well as state and federal governments, on a fee-for-service basis that is affordable and sustainable.

Following its trial in the grains industry, the Sentinel was trialled in the Barossa Valley for the viticulture industry. The prototype Sentinel operation over the next few months will be a learning phase to optimise how it works and make improvements, with plans to launch in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia in early 2020. A second Sentinel will be launched in northern Queensland in early 2020. This Sentinel will focus on optimisation of trapping and sampling in a tropical environment, before moving down through various growing regions of Queensland. By mid-2020 it is expected that several more Sentinels will be launched across the country, reporting dynamic pest and disease information to all plant industries.

APAL director, Kevin Sanders is looking forward to the Victorian Sentinel launch and believes smart surveillance technology is the future of orchard management and that it will be a vital tool to help inform future business decisions.

“Protecting Australia’s agricultural produce from pests and diseases is an ongoing job that is vital to protecting the future viability of our primary production industries,” he said. “We need reliable information to support our pest free areas and maintain or expand our market access.”

Kevin Sanders has been a long-time advocate of innovative R&D that supports industry.

“While we are doing regular crop scouting out in the orchards, we aren’t able to identify exactly what we are finding. The accuracy of the identification of pests and diseases trapped by the Sentinels will give us better information for pest management.”

The iMapPESTS team will work with growers and industry representatives to understand the best way to communicate and visualise the dynamic pest information for end users, sharing which pests or diseases the Sentinel is detecting in an area at a particular time. Growers and agronomists are encouraged to visit the iMapPESTS website for more information on surveillance outcomes.

Source: APAL

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