Stink bug an economic conundrum for young scientist

RD&E News | April 2020
03 Apr 2020
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With its pretty marbled back and delicate herbal scent, the brown marmorated stink bug(Halyomorpha halys) doesn’t look particularly fearsome.

However, this little bug – measuring just 1.7 cm long at full adult size – could be a menace for the wine sector. They could make a meal of even the healthiest vineyard, with physical damage to berries making them much more susceptible to bunch rot and, hence, yield loss. It also releases an unpleasant aroma that can cause wine taints should they find their way into ferments.

Luckily, the bug hasn't established in Australia. Recent incursions have been eradicated and incoming high-risk shipping containers undergo fumigation.

Brown marmorated stink bug. Image, Adobe Stock

But does the cost of this management approach – including the cost of the chemicals, application and flow-on effects – outweigh the actual risk of a brown marmorated stink bug invasion?

That’s the question 2020 Wine Australia-sponsored Science and Innovation Award winner Hamish McKirdy hopes to answer using economic modelling to produce a cost–benefit analysis of the bug on the Australian wine sector.

‘The bug was being described as highly-destructive, but no one could give me an exact, quantifiable number as to the amount of damage they could do’, said Hamish, a PhD student and research assistant at Western Australia’s Murdoch University.

‘It was very disjointed and there were just so many gaps in the information.’

Hamish McKirdy and Minister for Agriculture the Hon David Littleproud

With a PhD focus on the chemical control of invasive insect pests – and biosecurity and post-harvest fumigation treatments his special area of interest – Hamish is uniquely positioned to investigate the issue.

Hamish will use the Award to learn from one of the country’s top biosecurity risk experts and create a cost–benefit analysis for the wine sector. He plans to model the price of treating shipments—including the cost of the chemicals, application and costs of flow-on effects.

These could be shipments of general goods as well as winery-related material such as barrels. This will be weighed against the risk and potential cost of an invasion.

Hamish said economic modelling was an innovative way to drive decision-making.

‘I think too often we choose a particular treatment method or strategy without fully addressing the entire financial cost, which includes economic, social and environmental costs.

‘By focusing purely on the financial metrics, it allows for a quick comparison with the consideration of various factors (economic, social and environmental) from both an initial deployment and long-term perspective.’

Hamish said the strong financial aspect of biosecurity measures was key to him understanding the bigger picture.

‘Going forward, I’ll be able to not only recommend the treatment, but I also back it up with the hard data to say, financially, this is going to be the most viable method for both the sector and government.’

Hamish said the Wine Australia-sponsored award meant a great deal to him.

‘It is incredibly humbling to be recognised as one of the nation's top young agricultural scientists, and I take great pride in the opportunity to play a role in the protection of a sector that employs more than 160,000 Australians’, he said.


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