Crop-destroying slugs have prompted a Wimmera family to trial a liquid fungi on their canola crop in the hope it will stop the pest's devastating destruction next season.
Wimmera croppers Graeme and Sarah Maher, Marlu Farms, said the consequences of slugs had caused significant problems this year across their properties at Lubeck and Dadswells Bridge.
The pair run 1000 hectares of cropping and 2000/ha of Merinos and crossbreds across western Victorian properties.
"The slugs have eaten our canola, pasture and barley," Mr Maher said.
"In times gone by we've never had slug problems but suddenly we have a big problem.
"The western district is used to having slugs as a problem, but up in the Wimmera we're not used to them."
Mr Maher said the slugs - which had previously not affected his crops - had hurt the hip pocket by $150/ha.
"We've had to re-sow 50 hectares of canola and barley and even after the second re-sowing it was pretty patchy," he said.
"We've baited three or four times but they've still won in spots so I had to look at doing something different."
It prompted the pair to investigate possible alternatives to combat the devastating pests, brought on by back-to-back consecutive wet summers.
Their investigations led them to a multi-species biological product called Microbe M which was recommended by agribusiness consultancy firm Biosys.
"We're trying to change our system where we are less reliant on chemicals and if the answer to slug issues is baiting heavily every year, that doesn't sit comfortably with me," Mr Maher said.
"We're fiddling with a system where we use less fungicides and less insecticides."
The multi-strain fungi was applied with water using a boom spray on their Wimmera property earlier this month.
"The paddock that we sprayed with fungi for slugs was sown four years ago to canola and slugs were not an issue then," Mr Maher said.
"I would like to tell you it's a raging success but I've spent $20 a hectare and not sure if it's worked yet, but I think it's working, however, it is probably too soon to tell."
Biosys manager Rob Kljun, whose background specialises in primary production, described the fungus as "another tool in the tool box".
"It is a fungus which attaches itself to the host insect and grows and then when other insects come into contact with it, it infects them with a fungal spore," he said.
"For us, it's just part of a bigger approach in helping the plant recover from any pressures that they have on pests.
"Ultimately what we are trying to do is to break the life cycle of the pest through a holistic approach."
Mr Klijun described it as a "novel and experimental approach" to assist with insect pressure.
"When the fungus is sprayed on, the aim is for the pest to come in contact with the fungi which then in turn will reinfect the neighbouring insects and pests," he said.
Microbe M is a combination of fungi and water which Biosys puts together at its Mount Gambier, SA, plant.
The fungi has been used across a range of agricultural applications including in broadacre farming, horticulture and pasture protection and costs between $20-$40/ha.
Horsham-based Crop Opti agronomist Trav Hair said slugs had caused headaches for crop growers particularly in the Wimmera where slugs had not been reported previously.
"Generally we see some slug activity south of Horsham, but usually we don't see them in the numbers around the Matoa and Minyip areas where they have been pretty bad this year," he said.
"We had some big summer rains here right at the start of the year and I think that got them up and going.
"Our area is usually prone for mice and while we've seen mice around, we've also had a lot of slug and snail activity which has created a few headaches."
Mr Hair said many Wimmera growers had not been affected by slugs in the past, causing some people to be less alert about their existence compared to other areas.
"We've heard of some guys who have had some patches of canola eaten out and they've had to come back and resow, and I think typically it has been where these pests have not generally come up," he said.