“Hunt” for Macrolophus project proposal approved
At their second meeting for the year in Auckland on April 26th, the TomatoesNZ board was presented with a detailed proposal for a “Hunt for Macrolophus”. The proposal was presented by John Kean of the Biocontrol and Biosecurity group, AgResearch, and was for the design and implementation of a field survey to detect the presence of the whitefly biocontrol agent Macrolophus pygmaeus in New Zealand.
The AgResearch team has extensive experience designing surveys for detecting insects, including for the successful eradication of Great White Butterfly in 2016, and developing risk maps for the entry and establishment of fruit flies.
In 2014, TomatoesNZ failed in our bid for approval from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to release Macrolophus into NZ. The failure was predominantly because of the polyphagous nature of the insect (meaning it feeds on a wide range of species including plants); and the fact that the climate modelling, while showing that Macrolophus was unlikely to survive in NZ outside of greenhouses, was dismissed by the panel as insufficient evidence that Macrolophus would not have a negative impact on New Zealand overall.
During the EPA application process, it came to light that a previous illegal distribution of this biocontrol agent throughout New Zealand (in the mid 2000’s) was much wider than previously understood. TomatoesNZ is keen to find out if any have survived. If they have not survived, then the climate modelling was correct. If they have survived, we will notify MPI of their presence and there will then be a process of determining whether either an eradication should be attempted or it should be declared as “present in NZ”.
This first stage of the project involves a small working group considering all the information we know about Macrolophus and its previous distribution in NZ, and sharing that with the AgResearch team. This will inform the designing of the survey.
The second stage will create a map of the locations where Macrolophus is most likely to be present outdoors in NZ. The TomatoesNZ board will then consider how to proceed based on the map. If the board consider it is worth proceeding with the “hunt”, options for surveying will be developed. There will be a trade-off between cost and the level of sensitivity of the survey (likelihood of detection), which the board will consider before a survey is begun.
Macrolophus application declined
We were disappointed to hear on the 28th of April that our application to import Macrolophus pygmeaus for release has been declined by the Environmental Protection Authority. The independent panel that assessed our application determined “that the adverse effects of the organism outweigh the positive effects” . A link to their full report can be found on tomatoesnz.co.nz.
The TomatoesNZ board are very disappointed with this outcome, as I am sure all tomato growers will be. Access to new, sustainable pest control options is important to growers, and we believe to New Zealanders who value New Zealand grown tomatoes. TNZ spent considerable time, effort and money on evaluating options for whitefly control, and on this application. We felt that we provided the information required under the HSNO Act, and that Macrolophus would not widely establish outside the greenhouse, however the panel took a different view. We will now have to go and re-look at the limited remaining options for whitefly pest control.