Construction is drawing to a close at the Hortgro Phytosanitary Laboratory (or PHYLA for short). Once completed, PHYLA will serve as base for much needed research into how to at best control pests and plant diseases that are of phytosanitary importance to South African deciduous fruit export industry.
The project is funded by the deciduous fruit industry body Hortgro. It is being spearheaded by Stellenbosch University (SU) entomologists Dr Shelley Johnson and Dr Renate Smit. Both phytosanitation experts are seconded by Hortgro to the SU Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology.
PHYLA is to be housed in a building at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm, which is managed by Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of AgriSciences.
“PHYLA’s work will strengthen the deciduous fruit industry’s effort to ensure that fruit being exported overseas aligns with market requirements. The facility will be used to test new options to improve phytosanitation measures, and to approve methods that have been developed elsewhere and could be useful to local producers and packhouses,” says Dr Johnson, who has been seconded to SU since 2006.
“There are constantly new challenges, new pests that have to be dealt with,” she adds.
According to Dr Johnson, ensuring quality phytosanitary measures these days require much more than just making sure that exported fruit do not carry unwanted insects with them. Treatments must also be environmentally friendly and in line with the specific requirements of various export markets in for instance the European Union and Asia.
“We will be doing integrated research that takes both the best ways to kill insects as well as fruit quality into consideration.”
The facility will greatly enhance the work that Dr Johnson’s research team has been doing since 2006, including fumigation studies, cold sterilisation treatments and the use of ethyl formate.
The building which is to house PHYLA started its life as a sheep shed on the experimental farm, and was later converted into an insectary as part of a pest management research project. The insectary is being retained for use by PHYLA.
Most inner walls have already been knocked out, the floor lifted, and a concrete floor thrown. New wall panelling was added to create more internal rooms. These will among others be used as laboratory and research space.
“As part of the refurbishment project, laboratory space is being converted into three cold rooms and one fumigation room. These are being installed to industry specifications,” says PHYLA facility manager Dr Smit, a SU alumnus who in 2019 completed her PhD on newer phytosanitation options, including ethyl formate.