Golf courses, football fields and cricket ovals will benefit from an agreement signed this week between CSIRO and commercial partner Clean River Company.
"CSIRO nematode technology will help an Australian company emerge as a major player in the world turf management market," says CSIRO's Dr Robin Bedding. "World wide sporting fields, racecourses and golf courses are major commercial assets—millions of dollars are spent maintaining them.
"The agreement will license Clean River subsidiary, Ecogrow Pty Ltd, to manufacture commercial quantities of ENs (Entomopathogenic Nematodes), a biological control agent for scarab beetles and other turf and horticultural pests," says Dr Bedding.
"Turf is vulnerable to severe damage from insect pests such as scarab beetle," says Mr Joe Blaney, owner of Ecogrow. "Chemical pesticides are effective, but they can also harm beneficial organisms in the soil, and there are other problems such as run-off entering the waterways.
"Biopesticides such as our EN-based products are 'green' alternatives and can help to reduce the use of chemical pesticides."
Many of the world's biopesticides are based upon ENs. Before CSIRO's technology was developed, expansion of the market for ENs was limited by a lack of suitable strains, the high cost of production and the short shelf life for the products.
"CSIRO's expertise in this area and the technology it has developed is world class," says Mr Blaney. "Ecogrow is very pleased to have the opportunity to take the technology forward into a global marketplace and to continue to work with CSIRO on the development of new products for other important insect pests."
CSIRO project leader Dr Bedding says, "Identifying the target-specific nematodes has been an important part of our research, but more importantly for the commercialisation of this technology has been our development of a unique system for large scale production and the methods for medium to long term storage."
Dr Bedding explains how the nematodes work. "Entomopathogenic nematodes, as their name suggests, are insect killers. They are a special type of nematode, or primitive microscopic roundworm that can seek out and kill a wide range of specific target pests," he says.
"They do this by releasing a bacteria into their prey, but they are harmless to other animals, plants and the environment."
"We currently manufacture several strains of ENs," he says. "These are targeted at turf pests such as black beetle and other scarab beetle grubs as well as bill bugs, cutworms and armyworms."
Dr Bedding has been conducting research into nematodes for over twenty years. An earlier project resulted in successfully averting the threat to the Australian pine plantation industry from the Sirex wood wasp. Industry estimates put the savings at up to $4 billion for every rotation of trees (about 35 years).
The new agreement licenses Entomology's patented production, storage and usage methods to Ecogrow. As well as licence fee plus royalties from sales of Ecogrow products, under the terms of the agreement, Ecogrow commits to a substantial R&D program to find and develop better strains of nematodes, identify new target pests and markets, and to streamline the production, marketing and delivery of new products.
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