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The challenge

Control agricultural weeds, pests and diseases while maximising profitability, ensuring safety, and minimising environmental impacts.

Agricultural and veterinary chemicals are used globally to control weeds, pests and diseases in crops and animals at various stages of production, storage and export. A significant threat to economically and environmentally sustainable control is that target agripests become resistant to the chemicals used to try and manage them. The challenge of resistance occurs worldwide. Using a combination of practices and management strategies to prevent problems from occurring and reduce the need for chemical use can slow the spread of resistance. In turn, this practise helps preserve essential products for when they are the only option for control.

Additionally, despite chemicals improving agricultural productivity and animal welfare, their use faces questions. Key concerns are for the safety of food and fibre products, the potential health impacts of chemicals on workers and their communities, and environmental damage to land, water, flora and fauna. Some chemicals used in Australia are banned or highly regulated overseas, which can restrict export markets and jeopardise their longer-term registration. Market forces are also limiting the production of new chemicals.

In Australia, the use of agricultural chemicals such as insecticides, miticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics and anthelmintics has doubled since 1992 to over 50,000 tonnes each year, costing around $3.7 billion. To support resilience in pest, weed and disease control and address social license concerns, there is a clear case to modify how chemicals are used in the coming years.

Our response

A national conversation to map profitable agri-food and fibre systems with lowered chemical inputs.

For the last two years CSIRO has been leading a national conversation with agricultural industries, government departments, financial services, non-governmental organisations, farm input manufacturers and resellers, processors, exporters, retailers and consumers. The Agripest Challenge team has spoken with stakeholders to gain a better understanding of what they see as the key challenges for durable pest management.

One of the potential outputs we have been developing is a national platform for assessing risks to specific controls and collecting and sharing relevant data across the supply chain (the Pesticide Use Risk Scenario Platform). Through interviews with a diversity of stakeholders we have found that data sharing is one of the biggest impediments to developing partnerships across the supply chains.

The results

How can you help?

For over a decade pest, weed and disease control scientists researched how to optimise the use of chemicals whilst minimising costs, and developed alternatives including genetically resistant crops and livestock, biological products, vaccines, and specific tactics for production that reduce the chances of infestation. However, despite opportunities and some success via Integrated Pest/Weed/Disease Management (IPM), there continues to be an over-reliance on chemicals throughout much of agriculture. 

The Agripest Challenge team has documented some of the reasons why the adoption of alternative and diverse pest management practices has stalled in many Agricultural industries. We have identified the roadblocks that prevent change of practice on farm and throughout supply chains. We have pinpointed the changes needed for Australian agriculture to keep pace with demands and changed expectations from overseas buyers of our products and shifting needs of domestic buyers. However, to achieve change will require more than science research, but a strengthened process for the co-innovation of solutions throughout supply chains.

[CSIRO logo appears on screen.]

[Scene of a silkworm eating a leaf] On-screen text: Chemically resistance agripests.

[3D animation of molecules] On-screen text: A lack of new products.

[Drone shot of grain being loaded on to  ship] On-screen text: Tighter market regulations.

[Drone shot of a tractor applying a spray to a field] On-screen text: All of these changes will limit our future agripest control options.

[A staggered line of harvesters working in a field] On-screen text: Fewer agrichemicals will put Australia’s food and fibre production at risk.

[A person carries a basket of vegetables through a field]

[A dog herds a flock of sheep in a paddock]

[Scene of a conference] On-screen text: But we can find solutions together.

[A field of canola in bloom] On-screen text: There are opportunities to target four key research areas...

[A ladybug eating pest insects] On-screen text: 1. Replace chemicals where appropriate with natural alternatives.

[Drone shot of livestock being herded through a pen] On-screen text: 2. Redesign systems to be more resilient against agripests.

[Animation of a person using digital agricultural tools in a field] On-screen text: 3. Reduce chemical use through informed decision making.

[Two farmers talking in a field, backlit by the sun] On-screen text: 4. Rethink national and global agripest strategies.

[Drone shot over a grain crop at sunset with sprayers running] On-screen text: Together we can enable a productive future with durable agripest solutions.

[CSIRO logo appears on screen.] On-screen text: Australia’s National Science Agency.

Agriculture faces a challenge to overcome agripests in a sustainable way, but there are sustainable options to overcome problems such as chemical resistance and new environmental regulations.

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