Biological control of opuntioid cacti is becoming a reality in Western Australia with plans to import and release the cochineal bug at Tarmoola Station, north of Leonora. Control of opuntioid cacti (a declared pest in Western Australia) is a tough challenge faced by land managers in the Rangelands region mainly due to limited access and effectiveness of control methods across the vast rugged terrain.
Biological control is the use of natural enemies such as a virus, insect or plant disease for the management of a pest. They are usually found in the natural environment where the weed originates overseas. Biological control agents must undergo rigorous quarantine testing and breeding before attempting release in Australia to ensure they will not become another pest itself and attack off-target plants. Chochineal has had a long and successful history in Australia, however different species are being sourced for control of opuntioid cacti because they will only survive on a specific host plant.
The great benefits of biological control include long-term, low-cost and self-sustaining control and the ability to seek out weed individuals that are difficult to access and identify. Another welcomed benefit is the reduced need to manually handle the plant. The leaves (or pads) of opuntioid cactus have many tiny thorns that can penetrate gloves, making manual handling of cacti an extremely hazardous task without the correct technique and personal protective equipment.
Biological control should be used as part of an integrated weed management system with other control techniques because the agent can never fully eradicate the pest population and destroy its own food source.
Astron has a dedicated team of weed scientists and technicians who have been actively involved in cacti control programs in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. We operate state of the art weed control equipment, including a fleet of fully mine compliant vehicles, fitted out with industry leading QuikSpray® boom and jetting systems.