Investment to hold the line against disease by john lovett

By John Lovett

Significant breakthroughs continue to be made in the field of crop disease management.

Successfully breeding varieties with better resistance or tolerance to a range of diseases is one prime example. But the fact remains that getting on top of crop diseases is a big budget item for farmers and researchers alike.

Most of us consider the challenge worth the effort. Given the benefits that flow from being the master and not the servant of crop disease, it is little wonder that solutions are being pursued with vigour.

Recent estimates provided by John Brennan and Gordon Murray of NSW Agriculture of the impact of diseases on Australian wheat alone underscore the need

for continued investment in this aspect of crop production.

These estimates can be found in an ABARE statistical report on the grain industry commissioned by the GRDC. The report found the average annual cost of wheat diseases, including foliar, root and stem diseases and those of the inflorescence and kernel, was $525.4 million.

In the northern region the main culprits are crown rot and root lesion nematodes; in the southern region, take-all and Rhizoctonia; and in the west, Septoria, yellow spot and black point.

Over the three regions, Messrs Brennan and Murray listed 30 separate diseases which cut wheat production.

Their impacts wax and wane as do the diseases specific to crops other than wheat. It is an unfortunate fact of life that trying to get ahead of crop diseases is like shooting at a moving target, because many old diseases change form and require new solutions, while new ones can and do emerge.

Testimony to the latter is the rapid spread of anthracnose in lupins in just one season.

This fungal disease ruined a promising harvest for many lupin growers and reinforced the need for continued vigilance when it comes to crop diseases and the need for continued investment in their control.

As sure as grain prices will continue to fluctuate, there will be other 'anthracnoses'. Vigilance and rapid response are key weapons in the war against them.