CMU Australia’s visiting Fulbright scholar’s research brings greater insights on controlling fruit-flies affecting South Australian crops

Posted 23rd July 2019

Research conducted by visiting US Fulbright Scholar, Professor Donald Shepard while at CMU Australia, has shown that the continual release of sterile fruit flies is the most cost-effective method to protect South Australia’s multi-million-dollar Riverland agricultural sector and keep the region fruit-fly free.

Professor Shepard spent five months at Carnegie Mellon University Australia as the third recipient of the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Applied Public Policy, which is jointly funded by CMU Australia and Flinders University.

The Fulbright Scholarship enabled Professor Shepard to travel to Australia to continue his research into the methods and applications of cost and cost-benefit analyses in health, particularly regarding results-based financing for diseases spread by insects.

“Thanks to the support of Carnegie Mellon University, I’ve been able to help the South Australian Government determine the best possible way to manage fruit-fly in terms of outcome, cost and benefit to consumers and producers using sterile insect technology”.

Prof. Don Shepard (centre) together with CMU-A Public Policy students

While South Australia leads the way in researching and implementing sterile insect technology (SIT), Professor Shepard’s research is the first to be conducted into the cost-benefit of the technology.

He collaborated with Biosecurity SA, a division within the SA Government’s Department of Primary Industries and Resources to undertake his research.

He said, “the research has shown that investment in SIT has a benefit-cost ratio of 5.3 to 1, which means that every dollar invested in this technology, $5.30 of benefit is returned to South Australia’s economy”.

The Riverland agricultural sector is valued at up to $500 million, with produce exported around the world, and is a major employer in regional South Australia.

“South Australia has vehemently protected its fruit-fly free status, as an infestation of fruit-fly could decimate the States’ agricultural economy and undermine backyard gardening”, said Professor Shepard.

However, without a permanent sterile fruit fly program, Professor Shepard says there is an 83% chance that the Riverland will lose its fruit fly-free status within the next decade.

The continual release of sterile flies could lower the risk by 40-fold, to just 2%.