A LONG-awaited world-first bio-insecticide which could have a huge impact on Australia’s cotton industry has been registered for use for the current growing season.
Sero-X, from Innovate Ag, has been in development for the past 15 years and its release comes as the Wee Waa-based business secures international investment from Belgium-based company Biological Products for Agriculture (Bi-PA).
Innovate Ag director Nick Watts said the bee-friendly pesticide was the answer to major issues with chemicals commonly used on cotton crops.
Sero-X is also available in limited volumes under permit in the macadamia industry.
Mr Watts expected strong interest from the nut and horticulture industries due to the market benefits to growing organic produce.
“It is safe for important insects like bees, giving growers access to an effective, commercial product that can replace those chemicals suspected of causing damage to bees, which are vital to agriculture and whole eco-systems,” Mr Watts said.
The active constituent, butterfly pea extract, was approved for use by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority in December 2015.
Butterfly pea is a legume used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb in India which many pests have a natural aversion to.
While a participant in the Cotton Cooperative Research Centre, Narrabri-based NSW-DPI principal research scientist Robert Mensah observed the plant’s natural protection from pests during a study of potential refuge crops for the cotton industry.
“He noticed that not many insects would go near this plant, so it was about the worst option possible for a refuge crop,” Mr Watts said.
“When Robert made that observation he started to look at extracts with it.
“In most cases, for other plants that show similar defence mechanisms, an extract just wouldn’t do much because you couldn’t take the compound out and have them maintain their structure.
“A lot of plants are good at protecting themselves against pests, but usually when you take the compounds out of the plant they lose their function, but we found that we could take out the peptides in butterfly pea and apply them to a crop and they’ll continue to function the way they did in the plant.”
The product has been developed between the private sector and Australian research institutions, and supported by Commercialisation Australia.
Mr Watts said the success of the collaboration shows how industry, science and government can work together to deliver innovative outcomes for the agricultural sector and regional communities.
“This is a win for regional Australia as the product will be manufactured in Goondiwindi, Queensland, with the product to be exported to the world from there,” Mr Watts said.
“Our pilot manufacturing process can be turned into a 10,000-litre a week production very quickly because we don’t have to order anything from overseas. It’s all done here.”
The company’s head office will remain in Australia’s cotton capital, Wee Waa.
The investment from Bi-PA will help Innovate Ag continue development of Sero X for other crops, and the Belgium company will register the product outside Australia and New Zealand.