Shoalhaven fireweed coming under attack from miracle aphid

Robert Cochrane would like the NSW DPI to take notice of what the cotton aphid has done as a biocontrol for fireweed.
Robert Cochrane would like the NSW DPI to take notice of what the cotton aphid has done as a biocontrol for fireweed.

Everyone’s scratching their head, but somehow an aphid hated by the cotton industry is saving pastures up and down the South Coast.

Some are calling it a miracle as the cotton or melon aphid destroys despised fireweed from Nowra down to Bega.

And scientists don’t want anything to do with it, studying a biological control in South Africa for the fireweed, while the cotton aphid is doing the attack job back home.

The first case of the cotton aphid’s  potential was spotted by Bega farmer Ron Snape.

He’d seen an article in The Land about how dairyfarmers in the Shoalhaven were fighting the South African curse.

Fireweed is pretty but nasty. It can cause liver failure in sheep and degrades pastures and can make cows sick. It can also degrade honey with unwanted alkaloids.

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Mr Snape asked known fireweed campaigner and retired Kangaroo Valley dairyfarmer  Robert Cochrane to visit his place at Tilba.

Mr Cochrane was astounded by what he saw.

Dead fireweed bush after bush with the cotton aphids all over them, killing the plants in all stages of growth.

An aphid encrusted fireweed bush on the Shoalhaven. The cotton aphid was first noticed at Tilpa.

An aphid encrusted fireweed bush on the Shoalhaven. The cotton aphid was first noticed at Tilpa.

Mr Cochrane wondered how the aphid had got to Mr Snape’s place.

 “I don’t know, all I can think is it took a ride on my christmas trees,” Mr Snape replied.

Mr Snape grows christmas trees as well as running a property.

That was 12 months ago.

Somehow the aphid has made its way north and is now knocking off fireweed around the Shoalhaven.

The aphids are winter feeding, so everyone was surprised when they re-emerged this winter past.

Robert Cochrane with live and not infested fireweed and dead fireweed plant after the aphid has worked its magic.

Robert Cochrane with live and not infested fireweed and dead fireweed plant after the aphid has worked its magic.

Mr Cochrane is delighted.

Finally fireweed is on the back foot, and there have been reports of infected plants right up to Jamberoo.

“The plants are completely dehydrated by the sucking effects of the aphid,” Mr Cochrane said.

“They appear to be controlling the fireweed really well, it’s great news. Cambewarra is full of it, it’s started in the Kangaroo Valley and it’s gone wonderfully well, it’s proliferating very quickly.”

But the authorities don’t want to know about it.

Mr Cochrane and Mr Hansen visited Ag minister Niall Blair earlier this year, but they are yet to hear back.

Shoalhaven City Council weeds team leader Phil Hansen said the aphid was doing a wonderful control job, but wasn’t sure how long it would last.

He saw no dangers to other types of agriculture on the coast.

  • Miracle aphid saves the day first appeared in The Land.

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