LIKE many farmers on the Darling Downs in the 1990s, Condamine and Warra’s Jeff Bidstrup can clearly recall the devastating impact of Heliothis on the cropping industry.
Not wanting the critters to devour their crops, they became the focus of DPI trials aimed at reducing chemical usage in the environment through biological control and other approaches.
Once a caterpillar dies from the Baculovirus it becomes a sack of virus which then infests pest populations.
For decades, subsistence farmers overseas had been collecting the virus and spraying it on crops.
The Bidstrup family hosted the DPI reduced pesticide trials and eventually an integrated pest management (IPM) program for pest control.
In 2001 Mr Bidstrup and his eldest son Wade Bidstrup, who had just returned home from university, were continuing their involvement with IPM when they connected with scientists Anthony Hawes and Patrick Buerger from Richmond, NSW, who were beginning to manufacture NPV for the Australian market.
They joined forces and found a way to mass produce economical biological insecticides now known as AgBiTech’s Vivus Max.
The success of the business has seen their products now sprayed on sorghum, sweet corn, chickpeas, strawberries, and widely used on wheat last year.
Products are registered in America, Brazil and South Africa and a factory was built in Dallas 12 months ago to create new products for insects not native to Australia.
Their Toowoomba factory can house up to 20 million individual caterpillar cells at peak production.
Founding director, Mr Bidstrup said he never expected the product would be so successful given he was just a farmer wanting to do something to stop the yearly outbreaks in an environmentally responsible manner.
“We really just were having a go and thought worst case scenario we will make some for our own use and with a bit of luck sell some to someone else,” he said.
“Back in the 1990s we had a massive problem with Heliothis.
“Around 2000 the adoption of IPM based largely on NPV Baculoviruses and genetically modified cotton completely changed the landscape and it makes us feel very proud to have been an integral part of that.”
Mr Bidstrup will share his experiences at the QCL Food Heroes Forum this week.
With many consumers of grains, legumes and pulses now placing increasing emphasis on environmentally sustainable and safe food production, Mr Bidstrup believes there is still much to learn in the biocontrol space.