Photo: Ewen Bell / Wine Australia

Aiming for the sky with innovative plant pest surveillance

RD&E News | June
Photo: Ewen Bell / Wine Australia
07 Jun 2019
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A custom-designed, mobile plant pest surveillance unit – known as a ‘sentinel’ – is under construction to help better manage pests and disease pressures across Australia via the cloud.

The sentinel is being developed as part of jointly-funded program titled iMapPESTS: Sentinel Surveillance for Agriculture, which aims to rapidly monitor and report the presence of targeted airborne pests and diseases.

Dr Rohan Kimber is the lead scientist at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)[1] for this national project, and he is guiding the technology partners that are building and deploying the sentinel.

The sentinel will feature two different samplers for insects: one at a six-metre height and the other at two metres. In addition to these suction traps, the sentinel will feature on-board lure traps, designed to trap pests such as light brown apple moth. Two spore traps will enable the early detection of pathogens such as botrytis and powdery mildew.

Image: AUSVEG
Dr Rohan Kimber

Dr Kimber said, ‘The trailer is equipped with not just the airborne samplers but the power supply; the telemetry required to move the data; and automated robotics, which will change the samplers according to the day or the capture criteria.’

After the sentinel has captured any airborne spores and insects, the data will be recorded via a cloud-based system and samples sent to the laboratory for identification of target pest and diseases.

‘The data will be married to the diagnostic results and visualised in a format suited to producers. It would be easily accessible on their phone, and it will show what pests or diseases the sentinel was detecting in the area at a particular time’, Dr Kimber explained.

CSIRO will use the data to develop a forecasting tool for pests and diseases and Agriculture Victoria will use samples to test new pest diagnostic techniques for the broadscale detection of exotic pests and diseases. 

Ultimately, the project has the potential to provide wine producers with valuable information that will arm them with improved knowledge for management of airborne pests and diseases.

Image: AUSVEG
Mobile jet spore sampler
Image: AUSVEG
Sentinel trailer concept

The sentinel will be launched in spring this year across various locations around the country – including wine-producing regions – to understand how the technology performs across Australia’s different environmental conditions.

AUSVEG has collaborated with Wine Australia and the project’s 16 supporting partners to develop a list of high priority pests and diseases that are likely to be targeted by the sentinel.

Researchers at SARDI are currently working through the list to develop robust and sensitive detection methods for the targets.

Wine producers are encouraged to provide feedback on this project, including what information is important and relevant to their growing operation. Additionally, producers can also contact their sector representatives to express their interest in the project and stay up-to-date on where and when the sentinels will be deployed in their region.


[1] SARDI is a research division of Primary Industries and Regions SA (PRISA)


This project is supported by Hort Innovation, through funding from the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit Program and funding from 16 partner organisations.

Hort Innovation is the Rural R&D for Profit Program grant lead and program manager; in partnership with Nursery & Garden Industry Australia Limited (NGIA) and the sector Research and Development Corporations of AgriFutures Australia, Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC), Forest & Wood Products Australia Limited (FWPA), Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), Sugar Research Australia Limited (SRA) and Wine Australia; in collaboration with Australian government departments and research groups of Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), AgriBio – Department of Economic Development Jobs Transport and Resources (DEDJTR), Department of Primary Industries & Regional Development, Western Australia (DPIRD), Plant Health Australia (PHA), South Australian Research & Development Institute (SARDI) and the international team at Plant & Food Research (PFR) [NZ], Burkard Scientific Limited [UK], and Rothamsted Research Limited [UK].

This article has been adapted from Vegetables Australia, bi-monthly magazine from AUSVEG.


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