VG 15010 A multi-faceted approach to soil-borne disease management

Introduction

Soil-borne diseases are a major threat to vegetable produce in intensive cropping systems, costing Australia’s $4 billion vegetable industry around $120 million per annum.

At the same time, management of soil-borne diseases has become more difficult with fewer chemical control options, more intensive rotations and consumer demand for “perfect” produce.

It is not surprising then, that growers and their advisers have identified soil-borne diseases as the main challenge for soil management and crop protection.

A three-year project will provide Australian vegetable growers with the tools and solutions they need to manage the risk of crop losses due to soil-borne diseases in the major vegetable growing regions of Australia.

The project (VG15010), which commenced in November last year, will be guided by a panel of growers and industry specialists under the management of Dr Gordon Rogers from Applied Horticultural Research and Dr Doris Blaesing from RMCG.

“The Australian vegetable industry has invested heavily in soilborne disease research in the past decade or so, but despite these efforts, effective management of soil-borne diseases remains the I number one soil-related issue identified by growers,” Dr Rogers said.

“Previous research (VG11035) identified five key soil-borne disease groups that continue to challenge Australian vegetable growers – these are Sclerotinia, Fusarium, Water moulds, Nematodes and Rhizoctonia. “The same diseases were identified as major issues in recent grower and adviser surveys, which clearly demonstrates that a new approach is needed to give growers the tools, information and skills to effectively manage these soil-borne diseases.”

Dr Rogers said the project would use the successful extension and delivery framework already developed under the Soil Wealth (VG13076) and Integrated Crop Protection (ICP, VG13078) projects to deliver a “truly effective” soil-borne disease management service to Australian growers.

“By drawing on the added research and economic skills, we will be able to fill in the gaps in soil-borne disease management knowledge, which growers and advisers urgently need to minimise financial risk from soil-borne diseases,” he said. Dr Len Tesoriero, Senior Plant Pathologist with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, will be leading the research component of the project, while Kym White, an economist with RMCG, will concentrate on new tools for the economic risk assessment as needs are identified.  

Key activities

The Soil Wealth and ICP projects, jointly led by AHR and RMCG, have created a new national framework for the delivery of soil and crop protection information to Australian vegetable growers.

The current project will build on this existing framework, which includes new resources and communication approaches that are expected to facilitate the adoption of existing – and new – soil-borne disease management practices.

“These range from field demonstrations and farm walks with leading Australian growers to instructional videos, fact-sheets and how-to-guides produced on each of the soil-borne disease and crop combinations,” Dr Rogers said.

“The how-to guides will focus on broader solutions that apply across regions and crops, while the fact sheets will be more specific.” Dr Rogers said a component of the project would also address social and multimedia content.

“The Soil Wealth and ICP website (www.soilhealth.com.au) will be extended to include soil-borne diseases and Facebook sites will be set up for all new demonstrations sites to enable growers and agronomists to follow progress,” he said.

Other activities proposed include regional workshops and interest groups, a network comprising 1,500 growers, agronomists, resellers and chemical companies interested in soil-borne disease management, as well as webinars, reports and articles.

A soil-borne disease master class held in September 2015 attracted 25 growers and advisers who heard cutting-edge informtion on managing soil-borne disease in a variety of vegetable production systems.

A monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement plan will also be developed and utilised during the project.

“With Kym White’s detailed economic analyses, we expect to have a more accurate assessment of the value of this project, as well as the chance to communicate the benefits of improved soil-borne disease management options,” Dr Rogers said. 

Acknowledgement

This project has been funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited using the vegetable industry research and development levy and funds from the Australian Government.