Biological pest control company AgBiTech CEO Anthony Hawes with insect larvae.
Biological pest control company AgBiTech CEO Anthony Hawes with insect larvae. Kevin Farmer

Caterpillars the critter key to beating crop pests

IN AN unassuming factory in Glenvale, millions of caterpillars are growing every week.

Insect control company AgBiTech, which officially opened its factory yesterday, uses the critters as part of a pest spray for a variety of crops.

The caterpillars are infected with a virus, which develops, and eventually the dead caterpillars are formulated into a spray to fight the helicoverpa insect.

AgBiTech CEO Anthony Hawes said as well as continuing to supply the local market, the Toowoomba-based company would be rapidly expanding its supply to Brazilian farmers, whose crops have recently been invaded by the pests.

"Last year they had billions of dollars worth of crop loss, and they're desperate to find a solution to try and manage that pest," he said

"We have millions of caterpillars. The front section is our rearing, then we produce our virus about halfway along, and the back section is where we formulate the product.

"We're really just artificially replicating a naturally occurring virus here."

The factory currently employs 14 staff, which will double in the next six months.

Mr Hawes said production would increase tenfold over the next year, thanks largely to the push into the South American market.

"We're based in Toowoomba because it is the centre of our main market - the Darling Downs and northern New South Wales.

"The Brazil thing is a new aspect for us."

A second Toowoomba AgBiTech factory is slated to open in Toowoomba in January.