UAVs for pest control take off

Friday 16 Feb 2024

As climate change increases the risk of invasive pests reaching our shores and affecting New Zealand’s multibillion-dollar primary sector, Scion researchers are hopeful a burgeoning tool could provide a more efficient urban biosecurity solution.

Scion’s Plant Protection Physics and Chemistry team lead Dr Justin Nairn says using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be a new tool in the biosecurity toolbox making pest control more targeted, safer and less invasive. UAVs can fly closer to the target than a helicopter − about 2m versus 10m-plus − have a smaller footprint and fly slower meaning they can be more precise.

The research comes two years since the discovery of the fall armyworm in New Zealand in February 2022. The moth threatens crops in its larvae (caterpillar) stage.

Nairn’s initial studies in March 2021 into the general efficiency of spraying using UAVs used fluorescent dye to investigate how UAVs performed in aerial spray operations in urban environments.

Then in February last year, one year after fall armyworm’s arrival, scientists trialed using a key bio-insecticide for combating Lepidoptera moths. The findings of this trial are being finalised but Nairn says using UAVs for pest control is growing quickly as operational limitations like cost, weight and flight time are reducing as technology advances.

Scion has been involved with pest incursion responses and field research in aerial spray methodology for decades looking for new, more targeted ways to tackle pest and insect outbreaks.

The invasive pest problem has been highlighted many times over the years. From a seven-year, $65 million response to the painted apple moth in Auckland in 1999, through to the ongoing battle against fall armyworm and managing myrtle rust.

Fast and effective pest control is vital to prevent pest and pathogen establishment. However there needs to be a balance between engaging communities ahead of incursion responses, and the potential need for fast action, Scion social scientist Dr Andrea Grant says.

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Source and image credit: Scion

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