Barley ‘blotch’ on study radar

Centre for Crop and Disease Management director Mark Gibberd.
Camera IconCentre for Crop and Disease Management director Mark Gibberd. Credit: Centre for Crop and Disease Management

First-year results from a unique project have confirmed fungicide resistance to both spot and net forms of net blotch in barley is widespread in southern areas of WA’s grain belt, with findings of reduced sensitivity or fungicide resistance the dominant situation.

The results are from the Barley Disease Cohort Project, involving innovative collaboration between researchers and WA barley growers, which is helping to find new in-field and locally relevant solutions to the growing issue of fungicide resistance.

The three-year pilot project, now in its second year, is being conducted by the Centre for Crop and Disease Management, a leading Australian research centre with co-investment by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and Curtin University.

CCDM director Mark Gibberd said the project involved growers as collaborators in important fungicide resistance research.

“A cohort of 173 barley growers from WA’s southern grain belt participated in the project during the 2019 season,” Mr Gibberd said.

“They helped to provide a clearer picture of the spread and impact of fungicide resistance in their region and worked alongside our research team to mount a local response to this growing issue.”

Samples of 330 diseased barley leaves provided by the grower cohort for analysis in 2019 were from paddocks across the WA grain belt, spreading from Cadoux in the north to Boyup Brook in the south-west and Boyatup in the far eastern area of the Esperance port zone.

The project focuses on the two barley diseases, spot and net forms of net blotch, caused by pathogens with detected resistance to Demethylase Inhibitor fungicides.

CCDM researchers carried out 2250 disease and fungicide resistance diagnostic tests on the cohort’s samples.

Of the 330 barley samples tested last year, 46 per cent tested positive for the presence of both diseases spot form net blotch (SFNB) and net form net blotch.

A total 50 per cent were positive for the presence of SFNB only, and one per cent tested positive for for NFNB only. Two per cent had no SFNB or NFNB present.

Other interesting results showed 15 per cent carried the CYP51A F489L mutation, which is associated with various levels of fungicide resistance in both SFNB and NFNB.

Only 21 samples from the 450mm-plus rainfall zone were categorised as sensitive.

A high number of samples (161) had reduced sensitivity and 28 of the samples were fungicide resistant.

Professor Gibberd said the first-year results highlighted both the threat of fungicide resistance and the benefits of a collaborative and local approach to research.

“Fungicide resistance is an issue that evolves over time and is borne out of a pathogen’s ability to adapt, so local knowledge is vital for developing effective management strategies against it,” he said. “As fungicide resistance increases, industry demand for in-field techniques to manage the problem is growing.”

CCDM fungicide resistance management and disease impacts research team leader Fran Lopez-Ruiz said the results were concerning.

“They confirm the potential for the loss of some DMI fungicides is very widespread across the sampled area,” he said.

This work is continuing in 2020, when the centre will invite the growers to submit more paddock samples to help refine the 2019 results, and again provide feedback on the performance of their crops towards the end of the season.

Several large-scale field trials comparing current management with alternative management techniques are also under way this year.

A CCDM podcast on the 2019 results is available on the podcast page of the CCDM website.

The CCDM has worked on fungicide resistant pathogens for many years, discovering cases across Australia, establishing cutting-edge techniques in the laboratory and in the field for detecting mutations in the fungus, and communicating this information to the Australian grains industry.

Fran Lopez-Ruiz, who leads the CCDM’s Fungicide Resistance Management and Disease Impacts research theme, said the ‘co-innovation approach’ used in the Barley Disease Cohort Project was providing invaluable information to researchers.

“Information from the project has helped us uncover new mechanisms of fungicide resistance – and for net blotch these are much more complex than initially thought,” Dr Lopez-Ruiz said.

“The samples from growers provide an ideal resource to underpin many of the more technical discoveries that will enable more effective detection, screening and management of fungicide resistance.”

An important part of the centre’s work is protecting the limited chemicals still effective for managing crop disease.

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