A pilot project has Agriculture Victoria scientists working with sniffer dogs and the tiny insect phylloxera, the world’s worst grapevine pest.
Agriculture Victoria principal research scientist Kevin Powell, with specialist dog trainer Craig Murray and his almost two-year-old Labradors Glory and Mamba, have begun a pilot project to explore the possibility of dogs being used as a novel early detection approach to detect phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae).
‘‘Victoria’s grape growing industry supplies three distinct domestic and export markets — wine, dried and table; the wine industry with the dominating share, contributing over $1.5billion per annum to the state’s economy,’’ Dr Powell said.
‘‘Grape phylloxera is the number one threat to our fruit and wine producing grapevines in Australia.
‘‘Phylloxera is a tiny yellow insect that mostly feeds on the roots of grapevines and eventually kills the vine.
‘‘The only protection is planting vines on resistant rootstocks, and the latest figures show that no more than fifteen per cent of Australia’s vines are on rootstocks,’’ Dr Powell said.
According to Dr Powell, if phylloxera is detected, a quarantine zone is established to restrict the spread of the pest.
‘‘Therefore, if we can identify infestations earlier, this will restrict the spread and lower the impact on the industry and growers can start to replant onto resistant rootstocks.’’
Dr Powell said the current processes for detecting phylloxera were labour and time intensive.
‘‘The process requires repetitive digging along vine rows, to depth, to inspect sections of roots using magnifiers to see if phylloxera can be discovered.
‘‘We are at the very start of the project, and have employed a dog training specialist and his two dogs to establish whether either phylloxera, and/or infested vines give off an odour or scent that dogs can detect,’’ Dr Powell said.