Reducing pesticide use with... insects?

Vineyards have traditionally been managed as a monoculture relying on ever-growing inputs of fertiliser and pesticides to remedy decline in productivity, but times are changing. We are seeing increasing biodiversity in the vineyard with cover crops, shelterbelts, birds, insects and soil organisms being encouraged, and Insectarium as the new buzzword. Much more than those sentinel roses to warn of fungal disease.

Mark Davidson has long produced organic wines at Tamburlaine. He said: “Our approach to viticulture is to work with and maintain as much of the natural insect, fungi and bacteria ecosystems as possible, along with sown ground cover grasses which assist in N-fixing in the soil and the addition of new organic material, and biodegradable organically-certified stimulants and sprays to minimise the “disruption” or “collateral damage” associated with ‘normal’ petrochemical-derived inputs.”

Matthew Bailey was awarded Australian Viticulturist of the Year in 2014 for pioneering and successfully implementing the Insectarium concept - a planting of vegetation corridors within 50 metres of the grape vines to build large populations of beneficial predatory insects and reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. Lady birds, wasps, damsel bugs, and other insects and spiders assist with the control of damaging insects and fungi. This provides a range of ecosystem services to improve vineyard health. A study by Melbourne University found 99 per cent of the 40 main species detected on the Insectarium over four years were beneficial.

Homework suggestions: learn about ecosystem services, visit Tamburlaine Winery to see this biodiversity in action, and read the Australian Native Bees Guide compiled by our Dani Lloyd-Prichard at NSWOEH and available from Tocal College.

Professor Tim Roberts is director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at the University of Newcastle.