Canola disease pioneer recognised with GRDC award

Author: Sharon Watt | Date: 26 Mar 2013

Steve Marcroft and Peter Schwartz

A pioneering authority on canola diseases has been officially recognised for his efforts and achievements in communicating the outcomes of research.

Dr Steve Marcroft has been named the recipient of the 2013 Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Southern Region Seed of Light Award.

This award acknowledges Dr Marcroft’s outstanding commitment and contribution to the Australian grains industry.

Dr Marcroft, who is based at Horsham in Victoria where he owns and operates Marcroft Grains Pathology, is highly respected and regarded around the nation and the globe for his leading role in findings into the occurrence and management of the damaging blackleg disease.

GRDC Southern Regional Panel deputy chair Peter Schwarz, who presented the award to Dr Marcroft at the National Canola Pathology Workshop in Melbourne (Victoria), said Dr Marcroft continued to perform a vital function in providing growers and advisers with important information relating to blackleg disease in canola.

“Blackleg is the major disease of canola in the southern region, which grows more than half of the nation’s canola crop,” Mr Schwarz said.

“A recent GRDC-commissioned report into oilseed disease losses shows that the magnitude of potential losses caused by blackleg in canola alone – without current control measures in place – would be $287.23/hectare or $331.3m nationally.

“So the value of the work that Dr Marcroft undertakes cannot be ignored. Without his ongoing contribution, and that of his colleagues, it would be very difficult for growers to continue to successfully produce canola crops which have become such an important element of farming systems in the southern region.

“Effective blackleg prevention and management strategies are critical – and we have Dr Marcroft to thank for the development and implementation of these.”

Dr Marcroft is the chair of the Australian Blackleg Review Committee and chair of the Australian National Canola Pathology Working Group. He has previously been president of the Canola Association of Australia and was project leader of the Better Oilseeds extension-based project aimed at promoting oilseed production.

Since 1998, Dr Marcroft (a former canola pathologist and agronomist with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries) has led and collaborated on a number of key GRDC-funded research projects focused on the monitoring and management of blackleg, as well as the identification of alternative blackleg resistance genes and increased blackleg resistance in Australian canola cultivars.

He has also been responsible for the development of blackleg phenotyping techniques which are now used routinely for identifying blackleg molecular markers, as well as the development of differential blackleg isolates to identify canola major seedling resistance genes.

Dr Marcroft devised a screening method to assess adult plant resistance, and this method is now used commercially to classify all canola cultivars into different adult plant resistance groups.

In 2000, he created the National Blackleg Resistance Ratings which are updated annually to provide growers and advisers with standardised and independent ranking of cultivars for blackleg resistance.

Dr Marcroft’s groundbreaking research – much of it done in collaboration with Professor Barbara Howlett and Associate Professor Philip Salisbury at the University of Melbourne – has resulted in the establishment of industry-endorsed best practices for durable blackleg management, including choosing resistant cultivars, separating new canola crops from last year’s stubble, and using either a fungicide seed dressing or fungicide-amended fertiliser.

Aspects of the Australian Blackleg Management Guide, produced by Dr Marcroft last year, are now being adopted by the Canola Council of Canada.

In collaboration with Dr John Kirkegaard from CSIRO Plant Industry, Dr Marcroft also developed the concept of dual purpose canola, for grazing and seed production, and provided recommendations on how to graze canola without increasing susceptibility to blackleg.

He was the first person in Australia to show that under certain conditions canola could be successfully grown in the low rainfall zone, and that canola can reduce disease-related yield losses in subsequent cereal crops. This remains the key reason for canola production in areas of less than 300 millimetre growing season rainfall.

His research and findings have been widely published, and Dr Marcroft is regularly invited to speak at oilseed industry and plant pathology conferences and events throughout Australia and the world. He often presents his latest research and advice at GRDC Updates for growers and advisers throughout the southern cropping region.


Caption: Steve Marcroft (left) receives his Seed of Light award from GRDC Southern Regional Panel deputy chair Peter Schwarz.


Sharon Watt, Porter Novelli
0409 675100

Region South, North