Production of bee-friendly insecticide to remain in Australia

Innovate Ag, the company behind the bio-insecticide Sero-X, has managed to secure funding that will allow them to continue producing this game-changing product in its home of northern New South Wales. Thanks to a new partnership with Belgium-based Biological Products of Agriculture (Bi-PA), Innovate Ag will be able to commercialize Sero-X – and begin distributing it around the world.

Using an active ingredient made from the peptides of the butterfly pea legume, Sero-X could provide significant improvements to the ethical and environmental sustainability of the food and fiber production industries. After 15 years in development, Sero-X was introduced last year on macadamia crops, and more recently, the product was registered by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for use by cotton growers.

This is big news for beekeepers like Harold Saxvik, who has been relocating his operation away from Riverina after losing 500 hives in 2013. According to Saxvik, the loss was the result of drifting insecticide spray from nearby cotton farms.

“The secret behind this innovative product comes straight from nature itself in the form of cyclotides,” said Nick Watts, project director with Innovate Ag. “Cyclotides are peptides, or mini-proteins, that are naturally found in plants and have a range of biological activities, including insecticidal and antimicrobial.”

This new bio-insecticide is already making a difference for macadamia farmers, who rely heavily on honey bees for pollination. “Before the introduction of Sero-X, it was not uncommon for growers to lose up to 50 percent of their crop without the use of pesticides,” said Macadamia Industry Agronomist Neil Innes.

“There’s more reliance on less specific, more broader spectrum synthetic pesticides which have a lot more effect on our pollinators,” Innes said. “There are three basic pesticides, and they all have major constraints. It’s a big juggling act to not damage pollinators, moving hives around lots of growers have had issues with bee kills.”

As demand for the product grows, Innovate Ag is hoping to expand from their current pilot plant in Goondiwindi. Watts said the company is hoping to commission a second production facility this year, to ensure a production capacity of 10,000 litres of Sero-X per week. The addition of a second plant would provide room to triple this production if needed.

“I don’t need to wear safety gloves because it’s so benign to use, so it’s an easy choice to make for us if we’ve got to use a spray when the bees are out feeding and pollinating, it’s sort of a no-brainer,” said James Thomas, a Gympie-based grower who was the first farmer to try Sero-X when it was approved last year. “I can just spray exactly when I need it to get the best use of the product and the bees will continue to feed and pollinate the flowers.”

According to Bi-PA’s chief executive officer, the agreement with Innovate Ag means Bi-PA can help develop and register the insecticide for use outside of Australia and New Zealand, while continuing production at the current plant in Goondwindi. The partnership, he said, will help address the needs of growers in the international market, and speed up the development of this revolutionary insecticide.

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