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Reducing the cost of disease in cereal crops

Wheat diseases are estimated to cause an average annual loss of $913 million. Stripe rust on wheat is pictured.
Photo: Richard Daniel

Reducing the impact of diseases on cereal production is a high research priority for GRDC.

Crop diseases are a serious and challenging constraint on Australian crop production. Wheat diseases are estimated to cause an average annual loss of $913 million and barley diseases $252 million.

These costs would be even higher without the control strategies that have already been developed through GRDC investment in resistant varieties, rotation options, paddock management strategies and the tactical use of fungicides.

But we cannot let down our guard. Pathogens evolve and adapt, and we need to remain vigilant in developing strategic approaches to stay profitable. Changes to farming systems, such as the widespread adoption of no-till and stubble retention, have changed the mix of diseases and new incursions remain a constant risk.

Our priority is to reduce the impact of the most important cereal diseases on grain production while minimising the impact on the environment and the grower’s bottom line.

GRDC’s approach is threefold: identify disease issues through surveillance and diagnostics, deploy disease-resistant genetic material via Australian breeding programs, and support growers and advisers to manage disease on their property through the development and dissemination of disease management strategies. The need to improve the understanding of pathogen biology and epidemiology underpins all of this research.

Accurate diagnostics

Surveillance and accurate diagnosis of pathogens is essential to understand the disease issues facing Australian grain growers and to provide advance warning of new and emerging threats. Surveillance also enables us to defend our ‘area freedom’ advantage to access international markets. For growers and advisers, diagnostics by plant pathologists to correctly identify disease issues ensures the most appropriate and effective management strategies can be deployed.

As well as traditional surveillance and diagnostics, GRDC is investing in new tools and technologies to provide more accurate diagnosis of multiple infections and early warning systems of pathogen spread.

Effective genetic resistance

The ultimate solution, and one that is at the top of GRDC’s priority list, is robust genetic resistance incorporated into locally adapted and competitive cereal varieties. Finding useful resistance genes in wild relatives and transferring them into cultivated species is a complex and painstaking process.

Technologies such as molecular markers and modern phenotyping are speeding the process and making it possible to stack multiple genes to create more durable resistance. Genetic solutions offer a high return on investment – estimated at $32 per dollar investment for barley foliar diseases, for example.

On-farm opportunities

We are also working to better understand individual diseases, what can be done to manage them on-farm and to support growers and advisers to make more cost-effective and sustainable management decisions. The development of tools such as the wheat foliar disease model and the StripeRustWM app will enable problem-solving in the paddock.

We invite you to learn more about GRDC’s investments in surveillance, genetic solutions and disease management strategies.

More information: Dr Friday Obanor, 02 6166 4530,

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