Tag Archives: PBCRC

grain biosecurity

Securing the future of grain

Featured image above: The Hon Luke Hartsuyker and His Excellency Dr Ren Zhengxiao introduce the Australia-China Joint Centre for Postharvest Grain Biosecurity and Quality Research. Credit: Plant Biosecurity CRC

His Excellency Dr Ren Zhengxiao, Administrator of China’s State Administration of Grain, and the Hon Luke Hartsuyker, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, have launched an Australia-China grains biosecurity research centre partnership.

The Australia-China Joint Centre for Postharvest Grain Biosecurity and Quality Research is a partnership between Australia’s Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), Murdoch University and China’s Academy of State Administration of Grain.

With grain Australia’s most significant agricultural export and China the world’s largest producer of wheat, the two countries share similar challenges for their industries.

“Global grain markets are changing and we need to change with them. Established methods for stored grain pest control are facing increased pressure from both regulation and changing market preferences for non-chemical options,” says Dr Michael Robinson, CEO of the Plant Biosecurity CRC.

“A major challenge is increasing insect resistance to the stored grain fumigant phosphine, a mainstay of the grains industry globally,” he says.

The Joint Centre will bring together leading researchers from both China and Australia to work on developing non-chemical controls to manage stored grain pests with the aim of reducing biosecurity and trade risks while providing clean grain.

“This partnership will assist both nations in protecting domestic and international grains markets, maintaining access and ensuring food security,” says Robinson.

The Joint Centre will focus on innovative technologies such as the use of nitrogen for stored grain pest management and ‘lure and kill’ pest control using pheromones and light-based trapping systems. The partnership will work with grain suppliers and companies to commercialise the research and deliver it to industry.

“This agreement has the opportunity to sustain biosecurity research in the grains sector for the long-term,” Robinson says.

“The visit of His Excellency Mr Ren to Australia to launch the Joint Centre shows how important this is for the grains industries of both countries.”

This information on theAustralia-China Joint Centre for Postharvest Grain Biosecurity and Quality Research was first shared by the Plant Biosecurity CRC. Read the original article here. 

Australia's biosecurity

Australia’s biosecurity future

Australia needs to take a fresh approach to its plant biosecurity science system according to the Australian Farm Institute’s Mick Keogh.

In a report released on 12 August– A sustainable and nationally coordinated plant biosecurity RD&E system for Australia – Keogh states that the establishment of a standalone plant biosecurity corporation, as a joint venture between the Australian Government, state governments and plant industries, should be a priority.

The report states: “The structure should have the flexibility to bring in other partners (for example the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries) and also to enter into joint-venture projects with other industry participants, such as grain or horticulture trading corporations.

Additionally it recommends that the structure be led by a dedicated, skills-based board, elected or appointed by contributing organisations or governments and have annual funding levels approximately equal to the current Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) (around $25 million per annum).

The focus should be on strategic and cross-sectoral plant biosecurity  research, development and extension (RD&E) projects and providing enhanced opportunities for the training and development of younger researchers.

Keogh says with no future sustainable plant biosecurity RD&E system yet described for Australia, resources for Australia’s biosecurity RD&E and surveillance on the decline, and the potential for major plant disease incursions increasing, there is a perfect storm brewing.

The Report, commissioned by the PBCRC, follows significant consultation with government, industry and research providers.

“Consultation confirmed broad support for a new approach to biosecurity RD&E, revealed a range of interpretations about how the current system works, and varying views on the best vehicle to drive a future RD&E system,” says Keogh.

Dr Michael Robinson, CEO of the PBCRC, observed there were many issues that were agreed upon by stakeholders.

“Through the consultation processes stakeholders were unequivocal in recognising the need for biosecurity to support Australian agriculture, growing its market and trade opportunities. We all agree on the need for nationally funded and coordinated plant biosecurity RD&E – for that we have consensus. Full stop. Consensus.”

“We also agree on the need to move now. The CRC has played an important cross-sectoral role over the past decade and any lapse between the CRC finishing in 2018 and a new system will leave a gaping hole in the plant biosecurity RD&E effort, not just for Australia but in the region and beyond,” says Robinson.

Tony Mahar, Chief Executive of the National Farmers’ Federation reiterated the importance of biosecurity in a recent blog saying: “it is one of the highest priorities for Australian Government services to both the Australian community at large and to farmers in particular. Our biosecurity system has a high level of research, development and extension capability in the plant and the livestock industries.”

Shenal Basnayake, CEO of NT Farmers said it is crucial that any future framework for plant biosecurity R&D involves and integrates industry and on-farm biosecurity within the overarching biosecurity R&D system. “Robust, peer reviewed, verifiable and science based R&D which is globally accepted will be key to maintaining a vibrant plant industries sector within Australia,” writes Basnayake in a PBCRC blog post.

Robinson says the Plant Biosecurity CRC is committed to leading the process, knowing that a long-term, nationally-coordinated research effort is essential for all agricultural interests.

“However, we can’t do it alone. We know there is no ‘correct’ answer on a future plant biosecurity RD&E structure, nor an ‘optimal’ structure from every stakeholder’s perspective but we firmly believe that through collective and constructive leadership we can avoid this potential perfect storm.

To find out more about Australia’s biosecurity future, click here to read the two-page Summary Paper, or access the full final report here.

This article was first published by the PBCRC on 12 August 2016. Read the original article here

CO₂ cuts nutrition

CO₂ cuts nutrition

Climate change is affecting the Earth, through more frequent and intense weather events, such as heatwaves and rising sea levels, and is predicted to do so for generations to come. Changes brought on by anthropogenic climate change, from activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, are impacting natural ecosystems on land and at sea, and across all human settlements.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels – which have jumped by a third since the Industrial Revolution – will also have an effect on agriculture and the staple plant foods we consume and export, such as wheat.

Stressors on agribusiness, such as prolonged droughts and the spread of new pests and diseases, are exacerbated by climate change and need to be managed to ensure the long-term sustainability of Australia’s food production.

Researchers at the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre (PICCC), a collaboration between the University of Melbourne and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources in Victoria, are investigating the effects of increased concentrations of CO₂ on grain yield and quality to reveal how a more carbon-enriched atmosphere will affect Australia’s future food security.

CO₂ cuts nutrition
An aerial view of the Australian Grains Free Air CO₂ Enrichment (AGFACE) project, where researchers are investigating the effects of increased concentrations of carbon dioxide on grain yield and quality.

Increasing concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere significantly increase water efficiency in plants and stimulate plant growth, a process known as the “fertilisation effect”. This leads to more biomass and a higher crop yield; however, elevated carbon dioxide (eCO₂) could decrease the nutritional content of food.

“Understanding the mechanisms and responses of crops to eCO₂ allows us to focus crop breeding research on the best traits to take advantage of the eCO₂ effect,” says Dr Glenn Fitzgerald, a senior research scientist at the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.

According to Fitzgerald, the research being carried out by PICCC, referred to as Australian Grains Free Air CO₂ Enrichment (AGFACE), is also being done in a drier environment than anywhere previously studied.

“The experiments are what we refer to as ‘fully replicated’ – repeated four times and statistically verified for accuracy and precision,” says Fitzgerald. “This allows us to compare our current growing conditions of 400 parts per million (ppm) CO₂ with eCO₂ conditions of 550 ppm – the atmospheric CO₂ concentration level anticipated for 2050.”

The experiments involve injecting CO₂ into the atmosphere around plants via a series of horizontal rings that are raised as the crops grow, and the process is computer-controlled to maintain a CO₂ concentration level of 550 ppm.

CO₂ cuts nutrition
Horizontal rings injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as part of the AGFACE project. Credit: AGFACE

“We’re observing around a 25–30% increase in yields under eCO₂ conditions for wheat, field peas, canola and lentils in Australia,” says Fitzgerald.


Pests and disease

While higher CO₂ levels boost crop yields, there is also a link between eCO₂ and an increase in viruses that affect crop growth.

Scientists at the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources have been researching the impact of elevated CO₂ levels on plant vector-borne diseases, and they have observed an increase of 30% in the severity of the Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV).

CO₂ cuts nutrition
Higher CO₂ levels are linked with an increase in the severity of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus.

Spread by aphids, BYDV is a common plant virus that affects wheat, barley and oats, and causes yield losses of up to 50%.

“It’s a really underexplored area,” says Dr Jo Luck, director of research, education and training at the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre. “We know quite a lot about the effects of drought and increasing temperatures on crops, but we don’t know much about how the increase in temperature and eCO₂ will affect pests and diseases.

“There is a tension between higher yields from eCO₂ and the impacts on growth from pests and diseases. It’s important we consider this in research when we’re looking at food security.”


This increased yield is due to more efficient photosynthesis and because eCO₂ improves the plant’s water-use efficiency.

With atmospheric CO₂ levels rising, less water will be required to produce the same amount of grain. Fitzgerald estimates about a 30% increase in water efficiency for crops grown under eCO₂ conditions.

But nutritional content suffers. “In terms of grain quality, we see a decrease in protein concentration in cereal grains,” says Fitzgerald. The reduction is due to a decrease in the level of nitrogen (N2) in the grain, which occurs because the plant is less efficient at drawing N2 from the soil.

The same reduction in protein concentration is not observed in legumes, however, because of the action of rhizobia – soil bacteria in the roots of legumes that fix N2 and provide an alternative mechanism for making N2 available.

“We are seeing a 1–14% decrease in grain-protein concentration [for eCO₂ levels] and a decrease in bread quality,” says Fitzgerald.

“This is due to the reduction in protein and because changes in the protein composition affect qualities such as elasticity and loaf volume. There is also a decrease of 5–10% in micronutrients such as iron and zinc.”

This micronutrient deficiency, referred to as “hidden hunger”, is a major health concern, particularly in developing countries, according to the International Food Research Policy Institute’s 2014 Global Hunger Index: The challenge of hidden hunger.

There could also be health implications for Australians. As the protein content of grains diminishes, carbohydrate levels increase, leading to food with higher caloric content and less nutritional value, potentially exacerbating the current obesity epidemic.

The corollary from the work being undertaken by Fitzgerald is that in a future CO₂-enriched world, there will be more food but it will be less nutritious. “We see an increase in crop growth on one hand, but a reduction in crop quality on the other,” says Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald says more research into nitrogen-uptake mechanisms in plants is required in order to develop crops that, when grown in eCO₂ environments, can capitalise on increased plant growth while maintaining N2, and protein, levels.

For now, though, while an eCO₂ atmosphere may be good for plants, it might not be so good for us.

– Carl Williams

www.piccc.org.au

www.pbcrc.com.au

Protecting Australian wine

Protecting Australian wine

Featured image above: Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre

Phylloxera is an aphid-like insect that is a pest of commercial grapevines worldwide. The Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) is funding a project led by Vinehealth Australia to conduct field trials for a new, accurate, sensitive and cost-effective DNA-based test for detecting the pest.

CEO of Vinehealth Australia, Alan Nankivell, who is leading the project, says phylloxera had a significant economic impact on the wine industry, as “the quality of our wines is based on the quality of our vines”. Eighty per cent of Australia’s vineyards have vines that are own-rooted, rather than grafted onto resistant rootstock; some are very old and the wines produced from these are highly sought after.

Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) feeds on grapevine roots and leaves them open to bacterial infection, which can result in rot and necrotic death due to cell injury. It destroyed substantial areas of vines in France in the mid-19th century and has affected several winegrowing areas of Australia; the only effective treatment is removing infested vines and replanting with resistant rootstock.

Financially, the cost of managing a vineyard with phylloxera is estimated to range from 10–20% in additional operating costs.

The current method of detection uses a shovel and magnifying glass to inspect sites in areas of low vigour; however, phylloxera may have been present for some time and the test is usually conducted in summer, one of the industry’s busiest seasons.

The new DNA-based test requires 10-cm soil core samples to be taken 5 cm from the vine’s trunk. The samples are then sealed and sent to a lab where they are dried and tested for the presence of phylloxera DNA.

Protecting Australian wine
Alan Nankivell, CEO of Vinehealth Australia, is leading research to develop a new test for phylloxera of grapevines. Photo credit: PBCRC

Nankivell says the incidence of finding phylloxera using the test was very high (around 98%), even when the amounts of phylloxera present were low.

“At the moment, we’re able to find phylloxera at sites any time of the year.”

The new DNA-based test could help prevent the spread of phylloxera in Australia, as those who have it on their property can determine where it is and whether it is spreading.

Sampling in vineyards across Australia over time will establish a baseline for the maintenance of area freedom. Nankivell says with this baseline in place, the quarantine management and farm-gate hygiene of vineyards will improve industry knowledge about where phylloxera is and isn’t.

PBCRC researchers are currently working to establish the most suitable grid pattern for taking the soil core samples.

They will also compare the DNA sample method with two other methods: the ‘shovel method’ and another using emergence traps to catch insects inside an inverted container placed on the soil, to determine performance against selected criteria.

This research strongly supports the wine industry’s focus on identifying and managing biosecurity threats to ensure the ongoing health of grapevines. Healthy vines are the foundation for a prosperous Australian wine industry.

–Laura Boness

To learn more about phylloxera, click here or watch this video about the Phylloxera Rezoning Project carried out in Australia: