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Agriculture Farming Rural, Government QLD

Why isn’t Australia widely adopting a proven, locally developed solution to combat the fire ant invasion?

Sundew Professional Solutions 4 mins read

In January this year, a deadly red imported fire ant (RIFA) was discovered in Tasmania in an Australia Post parcel that originated in Queensland. First discovered in Australia in 2001, the highly invasive species can wreak havoc wherever they spread, destroying animals that nest, feed, or simply go near the ground. Fire ants have now established colonies in Southeast Queensland with the pests jumping the border with their discoveries in northern NSW.


The US failed to prioritise their eradication program and it now costs the industry and agriculture sector US$7 billion a year to manage. Fortunately, Australia has access to a locally developed solution that has been proven. “The challenge is to drive its wide adoption,” says Sundew Solutions CEO, David Priddy.


His company has spent 10 years developing, testing, and refining a treatment to deal with fire ant infestations. The company’s ANTagonistPRO rapid response large area treatment is currently Australia’s only approved spray treatment that can be applied rapidly over large surface areas by tractors, utes, quad bikes, and other farm vehicles equipped with boom sprays. ANTagonistPRO’s resilience is complemented by Sundew’s SAS PRO rapid response direct nest treatment to kill individual nests. ANTagonistPRO incorporates a unique polymer formulation technology making it a much more robust fire ant treatment solution.


Limited success so far


Fire ants will cost Australia an estimated two billion dollars every year and that doesn’t include the huge environmental impact. Current attempts at eradicating this invasive pest have resulted in limited success for a variety of reasons.


Baiting is often used but it is inefficient and has limited use as poor weather and extreme conditions can render this method ineffective. Priddy points to a site in Brisbane that receives high rainfall. Despite eight years of baiting, the site remains heavily infested with red ants. The other approach utilised is individually spearing and injecting individual nests, which is a labour intensive process, requires certified training, specialised equipment, and is extremely time consuming.


“Australia should adopt a more cohesive approach and look at locally developed solutions that are proven specifically for fire ants,” says Priddy who formerly worked with a multinational biopharma company before forming Sundew. “Some of the approaches taken in Australia to deal with fire ants rely on overseas studies and data which may not be applicable here.”


David Priddy spoke at the recent public Senate hearing in Newcastle, focusing on the fire ant problem, where he encouraged a more holistic eradication problem.


“From my perspective, every fire ant is bad. They can all spread to new locations and infest new areas if not eradicated properly. In our experience, one crucial element of a successful eradication problem is using a product tested on local conditions,” he says.


A proven solution


The efficacy of Sundew’s product was evident at a five-acre shopping centre site in Queensland. Traditional program treatment methods were deemed impractical by the National Fire Ant Program due to complex terrain and time constraints.


Adopting spear and inject methodology would have required over 200 work hours to treat the area. Instead, Sundew's rapid response large area treatment was used, and it eliminated the infestation using one technician. “The entire process was completed in less than four hours, showcasing ANTagonistPRO’s efficiency and effectiveness,” says Priddy who has built Sundew into one of the largest family-owned Australian businesses supplying pest solutions to the professional sector.


ANTagonistPRO is also the only RIFA-approved concentrate product for applying to vehicles, earthmoving equipment, recreational vehicles, shipping containers, contractor and transport vehicles, as well as agricultural equipment. Applying this polymer-enhanced insecticide spray reduces the risk of fire ants being moved from property to property via vehicles and equipment. Large areas can be treated extremely quickly, at a fraction of the cost of other methods, with 100 percent eradication of fire ants in treated areas.


The current program relies heavily on accredited specialists, limiting access to treatment methods. “This exclusivity hampers the widespread adoption of effective control measures, exacerbating the spread of fire ants,” says Priddy. He is also calling for regulatory flexibility to accommodate effective and safe solutions. “Expanding the list of approved products to include scientifically validated alternatives can boost progress in the country’s fire ant eradication efforts,” he says.


The time to act is now


Autumn can be a particularly difficult time with the warm soil and milder days making fire ants more active. Priddy is calling on government entities, regulators, and pest industry professionals to come together quickly and implement a suitable solution that works.


The alternative is a dire scenario as fire ants can form colonies in 95 percent of mainland Australia and most of Tasmania if left unchecked. An assessment of their likely impact on 123 animals in Southeast Queensland predicted population declines in about 45 percent of birds, 38 percent of mammals, 69 percent of reptiles and 95 percent of frogs. This would push some species to the brink of extinction.


There have been several fire ant incursions since 2001 and all those outbreaks were eradicated. “That tells us eradication is possible,” says Priddy. “We have the people and the know-how to make fire ant eradication a reality.”

About us:

Sundew Professional Solutions is a family owned 100% Australian business employing local families and manufacturing facilities in Australia and New Zealand to produce all of our products. We utilise the services of local Australian research companies, registration professionals, and chemical laboratories. With more than 40 Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) approvals during this time, Sundew presently exceeds its peers in developing innovative state-of-the-art formulations and technology for the professional pest management and other associated segments.

Sundew's red imported fire ant (RIFA) solutions are the result of years of extensive research and development undertaken in southeast Queensland since 2011. Sundew offers innovative solutions to quickly eliminate large fire ant infestations as well as protect vehicles from inadvertently moving fire ants between locations.

Contact details:

Jack Mallen-Cooper
PR Consultant
Whyte Public Relations
(02) 9901 4306


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