Australian Farms Face Threat From Deadly Sap-Sucking Bug

The Olive Lace Bug has impacted Western Australia and is threatening to spread further into the country.

Australia Department of Agriculture and Food
By Mary Hernandez
Dec. 19, 2016 11:30 UTC
Australia Department of Agriculture and Food

Two major Western Australian olive farm­ers have been forced to cull close to 7,000 adult olive trees that have been infested by the deadly Olive Lace Bug (Froggattia Olivinia) in an out­break that has been offi­cially declared endemic to the area.

The Olive Lace Bug (mem­ber of the Hemiptera fam­ily of sap suck­ing bugs) is native to Eastern Australia and its spread is par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing for olive grow­ers located in the West of Australia and New South Wales as it can dra­mat­i­cally impact an olive tree’s cur­rent and future yield, with the dam­age last­ing for up to two years in some instances.

Treating the prob­lem can prove chal­leng­ing to farm­ers as the Olive Lace Bug lives, eats and breeds under­neath the leaf, which mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to detect unless each tree is closely mon­i­tored.

The pop­u­la­tion of the Olive Lace Bug will mul­ti­ply rapidly if left untreated, mak­ing a multi-stage treat­ment pro­to­col nec­es­sary to ensure the bugs have been com­pletely erad­i­cated.

There is no spe­cific pre­scribed treat­ment for elim­i­nat­ing the pest from infected groves and experts rec­om­mend using insec­ti­ci­dal soap sprays such as pyrethrum. This treat­ment option is not favored by farm­ers as it runs the risk of dam­ag­ing nearby bees and ben­e­fi­cial insects as well as com­pro­mis­ing the integrity of the soil.

The harm to ben­e­fi­cial insects can lead to a pop­u­la­tion increase of other pests that were pre­vi­ously kept in check. There have also been reported instances of the Olive Lace Bug devel­op­ing immu­nity to com­monly used chem­i­cal treat­ments.

The bug has not found its way out­side of Australia’s bor­ders, but there is lim­ited research avail­able on an inter­na­tional level on con­trol­ling its pop­u­la­tion. Farmers are con­cerned that the bug could spread even fur­ther as it has been known to attach itself to machin­ery and even sea­sonal work­ers trav­el­ing from farm to farm, mak­ing its rapid spread a con­cern among stake­hold­ers.

Only time will tell of the mea­sures put in place to elim­i­nate the infes­ta­tion were suc­cess­ful. Experts in pest con­trol say farm­ers will need to wait until the fol­low­ing year when new sea­sonal growth com­mences, to see if the tell-tale yel­low, mot­tled leaves are present.

The Australian olive oil indus­try has expe­ri­enced explo­sive growth over the past few years, with annual pro­duc­tion increas­ing by an aver­age of almost fifty per­cent between 2010 and 2015, yet the coun­try remains a rel­a­tively small player in the inter­na­tional mar­ket, account­ing for less than 0.5 per­cent of the world’s total olive oil pro­duc­tion.


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