Triple hit costly for Moree district

Author: Rachel Bowman | Date: 15 Jan 2013

Two men in blue shirts standing next to each other

Crown rot, nematodes and an unexpected drop in protein levels dealt Moree, NSW-district grain growers a hefty blow to the tune of about $30 million in the 2012 winter crop season.

More than 100 growers, advisers and professionals including financiers and accountants gathered late in the year to nut out what happened and why.

Drew Penberthy, Crown Analytical Services (CAS) and Penagcon and Rob Long, CAS and B&W Rural, Moree, NSW organised the information day and say good attendance was testament to the impact of the issues.

“Nematodes, crown rot and lower protein levels impacted on yield and profits in the 2012 season, which was characterised by a wet start, particularly cold and wet July and then virtually no rain,” Mr Long said.

“My estimate in travelling around the district prior to harvest was a 15 per cent loss attributed to crown rot across the board.

“If the Moree district produces 1 million tonnes of coarse grains and wheat, that could mean losses of 100,000 to 150,000t of grain or $30 million.

“They are ‘back of the envelope’ figures but it’s probably not too far wrong.”

Crown Analytical Services manages Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)-funded research trials into crown rot in the Moree district and Mr Long says the disease became an issue as conditions dried out late in the season.

“High levels of infection after a couple of wet years meant a high incidence of the disease, including in surprising circumstances where the inoculum levels should not have been high,” he said.

“For instance, we’ve seen situations of long fallow after cotton on red soils getting 30pc whiteheads and yield loss. Durum was badly hit, both east and west of the Newell Highway.”

GRDC-funded research by the Northern Grain Alliance (NGA) in collaboration with NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) has studied the link between nematodes and crown rot and the role both yield-robbers play in nutrient and water uptake.

“If nematodes are decreasing the water access to a plant, it’s going to exacerbate the crown rot issue. If you couple nematodes with crown rot fungi blocking the stem you’ve got a real problem,” Mr Long said.

“Nematodes are increasingly becoming a real lurker and an insidious robber of yield but there has been some good trial work done by the GRDC-funded Northern Grower Alliance (NGA). Nematodes can be stripping the profit levels out of yield without being obvious.”

Mr Long said protein was a surprising issue this year.

“As potential yields declined through a dry spring, we thought that would be mitigated partly by good proteins but proteins were disastrous – potentially across the board about two pc lower than indicated both east and west of the Newell Highway.

“I think it was a quirk of the season; the fact that it was a cooler spring may have played a part.

“There was probably some denitrification through the winter and we lost some of that pre-plant nitrogen.”

He said some nitrogen may still be in soil and available for this year’s crop.

“That’s the real question we’ve got at the moment – have we lost the nitrogen or is it just a timelag of picking it up again?

“Even the areas like Walgett where protein levels are expected to be pretty good, their starting nitrogen levels and their protein levels were nothing short of disastrous – nine and 10pc protein wheat coming out of Walgett is unheard of.”


Crown Analytical Services (CAS) provides stubble testing for crown rot and soil testing for nematodes.

Mr Long says growers and advisers may use testing to get a snapshot of crown rot levels; as a ground-truthing exercise to work out why parts of a paddock didn’t perform; or to gain a benchmark to monitor the effectiveness of rotations.

Dr Steven Simpfendorfer, NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) senior plant pathologist told the meeting crown rot is a balancing act between managing the inoculum of the crown rot fungus in cereal stubbles and influences on soil water.

“Nematodes are microscopic worms that feed and reproduce inside plant roots which can lead to yield loss in intolerant cereal and pulse crops,” Dr Simpfendorfer said.

“This feeding activity also probably affects the ability of the root system to extract soil water. Reduced soil water extraction from nematode feeding could potentially interact with the expression of the fungal disease crown rot which is related to moisture stress during the grain-fill period.”

He said to date growers, researchers and advisers have concentrated on combatting the inoculum and that’s sometimes been at the detriment of the soil water aspect of crown rot management.

“We understand that all practices in the farming system impact on both inoculum levels and soil water.



“We’d like growers to understand it is intricate balance and to consider both elements when they are planning rotations and other practices.”

Dr Simpfendorfer said an emerging concern was the expectation that decomposition of cereal stubble would deal with the crown rot fungus.

“Inoculum is surviving a lot longer in the system than we previously thought and we really need to consider that within our rotations,” he said.

“Maximising water storage, as was shown this year, can really help growers deal with this disease and minimise losses.”

For more information on GRDC-funded NGA research, visit or . For information on testing services, email



AUDIO DOWNLOAD: Click the links below to download audio grabs for this media release

Photo caption: Graeme Constance, Glenoak, Ballata, Steven Simpfendorfer, NSW DPI, Tamworth, Alison Kelly, DAFF Qld, Toowoomba.(click on image above for a high resolution version)

Photo caption: Peter Taylor, Glen Eden, Gurley and Rob Long, B&W Rural and Crown Analytical  Services, Moree.(click on image above for a high resolution version)

Audio caption 1: Rob Long, B&W Rural, Moree, NSW talks about the top three issues for northern NSW growers during the 2012 season: crown rot, root lesion nematodes and lower than expected protein levels.

Audio caption 2: Rob Long, B&W Rural, Moree, NSW explains the financial impact of crown rot in the Moree district during the 2012 winter crop season – an estimated $30 million.

Audio caption 3: Dr Steven Simpfendorfer, NSW DPI senior plant pathologist, Tamworth, NSW flags the emerging link between crown rot, root lesion nematodes and soil water.

For interviews contact:

Dr Steven Simpfendorfer, NSW DPI
Senior Plant Pathologist
02 67631261

Kaaren Latham, Cox Inall Communications
02 8204 3852 / 0409 809 909

GRDC Project Code DAN00143, DAN00129

Region North, South, West