How to get rid of insekts without pesticides Part 1

How to get rid of insekts without pesticides Part 1

Farmer Brendon Hoyle has found a way to smash destructive bugs and keep his delicious strawberries organic — and he's glad it sucks.

Key points:

  • Brendon Hoyle runs an industrial sized bug vacuum over his strawberry fields
  • If used at the right time, it sucks up to 90 per cent of fruit flies off the plants and destroys them
  • The innovation saw him named 2022 Australian Organic Industry Awards Farmer of the Year

The Australian Organic 2022 Farmer of the Year uses an industrial sized bug vacuum, towed behind a tractor, to control Queensland fruit flies without spraying pesticides on his crop.

It means he can extend the organic-growing season from winter into spring, allowing him to sell fruit at a time that was previously unviable due to the explosion of pest insects on his Glass House Mountains farm in south-east Queensland.

The method has been recognised nationally as an innovative solution to a pervasive pest problem.

Play Video. Duration: 32 seconds
Brendon Hoyle's Bug Vacuum at work on his strawberry fields.(Supplied: Ashbern Farms)

When you don't spray, suck

Queensland fruit flies cost Australian growers hundreds of millions of dollars each year by laying their eggs in the flesh of fruits and vegetables, causing them to rot.

A Queensland fruit fly
Queensland fruit flies lay their eggs in the flesh of fruit and vegetables.(Supplied: Griffith University)

Managing the pest can be a challenge for organic producers who, under certification requirements, cannot use common control methods like pesticide sprays.

When Mr Hoyle spotted a tractor-mounted bug vacuum in use in the United States, he enlisted help to build a version for his own farm.

He settled on a triple drum model that uses large fans to suck in the bugs, smashing them into a perforated grill that covers the top of the drums.

Three silver drums on the back of a frame that fits to a tractor.
Ashbern Farm's organic bug vacuum was built using a US blueprint.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Mr Hoyle said it reduced pest insect numbers by 75 to 90 per cent.

"We've used it two years in a row now with much success," he said.

"It sits just above 100 millimetres off the strawberry plants. There is a lot of suction because you've got to pull the bugs off the leaves."

Strawberries growing out of black plastic in a field
Strawberries are a challenging crop to grow organically.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Getting in early

The bug vacuum is only used for a few weeks at the end of the Sunshine Coast strawberry growing season, carefully timed to avoid periods of the day where beneficial insects like honey bees are most active.

It is pulled over the fields every few days as new flies swarm the farm.

"Obviously there's a bit of a cycle that you've got to stay on top of," Mr Hoyle said.

"Each year we learn. We find that you've got to get in early before any pest population sets itself up in the crop."

The Sunshine Coast strawberry season is now over and cover crops have been planted to improve the soil as planning gets underway for next year.

A man holds up an award
Brendon Hoyle was named the Farmer of the Year at the 2022 Australian Organic Industry Awards.(Supplied: Australian Organic)

Releasing beneficial insects

Alongside the bug vacuum, Ashbern Farms buys and releases eight different types of predatory insects by hand and drone in response to other pests in the fields, such as aphids, which were a major problem this year.

"You've really got to become a master at using predators to overcome the issues," Mr Hoyle said.

"There's a bit of a lag. You've got to get in there early and you've got to understand what you're looking for and when the right time is to release but it's the only way we can control this in organics."

A man leans over a drone, preparing to send it up over a strawberry field.
Drones are used to deploy beneficial insects over strawberry fields.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols )

His multi-pronged approach was recognised by the broader industry, with Mr Hoyle named Farmer of the Year at the 2022 Australian Organic Industry Awards.

"We didn't expect it and when my name was read out, [my] just heart exploded. It was fantastic," Mr Hoyle said.

"We are very mindful. We watch what we're doing, and this is part and parcel of becoming better farmers, more environmentally conscious."

Outstanding in their field

Australian Organic chief executive officer Niki Ford said the awards were an opportunity to recognise the entrants' contribution to the nation's $2-billion industry.

A woman stands in a field with irrigation pipes and mountains behind her.
Australian Organic CEO Niki Ford says the bug vacuum is a great example of innovation.(Supplied: Australian Organic Ltd)

"All of the finalists that were included in the awards were stand-outs, but Brendon was so humble in his receiving of the award," she said.

"It was great to meet his wife, Ash, and the team."

Ms Ford said the bug vacuum was a great example of how innovative organic farmers were.

"They have to look at alternatives rather than just picking up a chemical to spray all over the beautiful produce that consumers then buy at the store," she said.


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