GRDC’s support plants the seed for crop disease breakthroughs

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A Curtin University research centre will continue to discover new ways to reduce the economic impact of crop disease for Australian growers, with a further five-year investment of $30 million by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Established in 2014, the Curtin-based Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) is a major initiative involving alignment of strategic objectives and co-investment of resources and human capability by Curtin University and the GRDC.

Confirming its industry-recognised track record for engaging with industry and delivering real-world solutions, the Centre’s discoveries include identification of  globally significant cases of fungicide resistance among barley diseases and finding the ‘master gene’ responsible for regulating infection by common wheat pathogens, and by generating germplasm and genetic tools that help growers breed disease-resistant wheat, barley, canola and pulses.

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne welcomed the announcement, adding it was evidence the Centre’s research outcomes were making a significant difference in the Australian grains industry.

“Whether that be in detecting fungicide resistance cases, or advances in pre-breeding genetic resistance, or even through improving farming systems management, our relationship with GRDC keeps us on top of the research needs of industry, and acting on them through genuine partnership to deliver results in a rapid manner,” Professor Hayne said.

GRDC Chairman John Woods said research undertaken at CCDM played a vital role in reducing the economic impact of diseases for wheat, barley, canola and pulse growers across the country.

“We started this partnership with Curtin University in 2014 and in that time we have seen targeted, world class expertise deliver outcomes that address disease issues facing Australian growers,” Mr Woods said.

“For example CCDM has done outstanding work identifying, developing and delivering barley germplasm that is resistant to powdery mildew with a total cost of research of $5.91 million, but representing a total benefit to the grains industry of $54.8 million.

“The centre has also made significant achievements in improving genetic resistance to canola diseases, through the identification of novel sources of resistance to sclerotinia stem rot (SSR) and working with Australian canola breeders on application of genomic selection for sclerotinia resistance breeding.

Mr Woods said GRDC invested in CCDM on behalf of grain growers because the grains industry needed sustainable, integrated disease management practices now and into the future.

“Crop diseases cost is a major constraint for grain growers so having varietal options and the latest best practice advice allows growers and advisers to optimise their return on investment when it comes to crop selection and fungicide use,” Mr Woods said.

“The next phase of GRDC’s strategic partnership with CCDM is focused on increasing grower profitability in disease challenged and fungicide limited cropping environments.”

CCDM Director Professor Mark Gibberd said that by working closely with growers, breeders, agronomists and life science companies and developing strong collaborative relationships with them, CCDM research has had maximum impact.

“As leader of the Centre since day one, I’ve been fortunate enough to see how far we’ve come over the years,” Professor Gibberd said.

“Now, together with CCDM’s Deputy Director Professor Josh Mylne and more than 60 research staff, we can look ahead a further five years and continue discovering long term solutions for growers managing crop disease.

“One way we are doing this is through a series of new projects that aim to enhance decision making and maximise the effective lifespan of fungicides. For example, we seek to examine the dynamics of longevity and efficacy of fungicides once they’ve entered the plant, enabling growers to improve protection of their crop from disease and use fungicides in a much more targeted manner.

“Another new project will look at how fungicide resistance spreads, for example, via the exchange of seed, and we’ll be working with growers to identify fungicide resistant pathogens on their seed stocks and the tools required to minimise pathogen carry over from year to year and location to location.

“We’ll also continue to develop the genetic tools and to identify or develop the germplasm needed to breed disease resistant varieties, as well as improve our knowledge into host-pathogen interactions, putting us in prime position for the development of crops with increased genetic resistance.”

CCDM partners with research providers in Australia and globally to bring new technology and capability to focus on three major research areas including fungicide resistance, cereal diseases, and canola and pulse diseases.

Additionally, CCDM conducts five foundation projects based on economics, bioinformatics, plant physiology, pathogen co-infection and fungicide dynamics, using extension activities to ensure outcomes are taken up by industry.

For further information on CCDM, visit www.ccdm.com.au

For a link to a video explaining CCDM’s impact in the industry, visit https://youtu.be/tgrNyT3bM7M