Five in one test for soil nasties by Denys Slee

Natalie Dillon of SARDI purifies DNA used to detect root diseases in soil

Before sowing you may want to soil test for root disease. It's easier than ever now that five diseases of grain crops can be detected from the one soil sample.

The SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI) has expanded its testing service and it is now being used by farmers from four states.

The diseases under the microscope are take-all, Rhizoctonia, cereal cyst nematodes and two species of root lesion nematodes, Pratylenchus neglectus and P. thornei.

Take 500 gram samples to an agronomist

Five-hundred-gram samples of soil are required which can be combined with soil nutrient samples. To access the service, farmers need to deal with an agronomist accredited to deliver the root-disease testing service results. The agronomists suggest management recommendations appropriate for a particular district and individual farmers.

Research manager Alan McKay says samples take about seven days to process but farmers should allow three weeks from dispatch of the sample to the time they received the results.

"Initial impressions this year are that the tests are working well and we have made a number of significant improvements based on our experience last year," Dr McKay said.

"We are seeing some paddocks with more than one pathogen present at significant levels. Farmers need to know this so they can plan their rotations properly.

"We believe we are developing a very powerful management tool that will only get better."

Program 2.6.2 Contact: Dr Alan McKay 08 8303 9375


  • first, contact their local agronomist to see if they can deliver the test (about 250 agronomists across the country are accredited so far)
  • if not, growers should contact their local Pivot or Hifert store (eastern Australia) or CSBP in WA, or Elders or IAMA
  • if their local store does not have an agronomist who can deliver the test results, growers may contact Dr McKay on the number above to obtain a list of accredited agronomists in their local area.