Smart tech tackling horticultural pest

Insect pests cause growers billions of dollars in loss and cost of production. Queensland startup and Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas funding recipient RapidAIM Pty Ltd (RapidAIM) is on a mission to provide growers with solutions to managing pests that go beyond chemicals.

Today, growers use chemicals to reduce risk of crop loss and cost. But with 485 000 tonnes of insecticide put on the planet every year, and 99 per cent of this missing the mark, new ways of protecting crops are needed. This overapplication comes with devastating consequences, including a decline in insect biomass and pests evolving to resist the effects of common sprays.

Digital is the future of crop protection, and this is where the Brisbane-based start-up comes into the picture.

RapidAIM Co-Founder Dr Nancy Schellhorn said RapidAIM helped growers reduce the risk of crop loss from insect pests by delivering the world’s first real-time pest detection information.

“We’ve combined cutting-edge hardware and software with advanced biomimicry and AI pattern recognition to identify pests the moment they set foot on farm. With up to 98 per cent accuracy, we help farmers go from blanket spray to precise intervention,” Dr Schellhorn said.

Spun out from the CSIRO, besides Dr Schellhorn, its founders were researchers Mr Darren Moore and Ms Laura Jones.

“We initially launched to take the guesswork out of the monitoring and management of fruit fly, a pest that costs growers about $300 million in control and loss.

“As fruit flies are evolving to resist the effects of common sprays, as identified in 2019 by researchers from the University of Melbourne, the industry is welcoming solutions to chemicals.”

The technology was rigorously tested in the laboratory and the field over several years in partnership with the CSIRO, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and Australia’s horticultural industry research and development corporation Hort Innovation.

The company provides a subscription service for regional pest surveillance and on-farm protection.

The regional pest surveillance services enable customers to see daily forecasts about when and where pests have been detected in their local areas, while the on-farm protection is confidential and lets growers know when and where to act, and whether they’re controlling the pests. 

RapidAIM has now evolved their product platform to deliver the service for moth pests of horticulture and field crops.

A successful launch of RapidMOTH for codling moth in five countries in 10 days in the northern hemisphere has been a great demonstration of market pull.

RapidMOTH will now be launched commercially in Australia in September 2023.

Codling moth is the biggest global pest of apples and pears causing $60 billion in crop loss and cost. The devasting fall armyworm is next on the company’s list, with a pre-commercial launch scheduled for November 2023.

The startup has a team of 15 people – comprising deep tech and agricultural experts.

RapidAIM received $100,000 in Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas funding in 2019 to help commercialise its RapidFLY technology.

This year the company received a $659,000 Accelerating Commercialisation grant from the Australian Government.

 Key facts

  • More than 30 per cent of global food production never makes it to the table – 15 per cent of this loss is due to insect pests. This loss is after more than $15 billion globally is spent on insecticides.
  • According to the Queensland Farmers Federation, horticulture is Queensland’s second largest primary industry, worth more than $2.8 billion per year and employing about 25,000 people. Queensland’s 28 000 horticultural farms produce more than 120 types of fruit and vegetables and are located from Stanthorpe in the south to the Atherton Tablelands in the far north of the state.
  • There are two main types of fruit fly that threaten Australia’s $13 billion horticultural industry: the Queensland fruit fly, which ranges across Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria, and the Mediterranean fruit fly, which is only present in Western Australia.
Last updated 31 Aug, 2023
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