Boost for AHRI program

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Research into the management of herbicide-resistant weeds has been given a $7.4 million boost, with the recent signing of a funding agreement between the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative.

The agreement gives AHRI the green light to continue its nationally recognised research into one of the biggest profitability barriers facing Australia's agricultural industry.

GRDC senior manager plant health Ken Young said it had been estimated the cost of weeds to Australian grain growers was in the order of $3.3 billion a year.

"That $3.3 billion includes the cost of herbicide, tillage or other mechanisms, and also the cost of the weeds that we don't control, and the cost of yield lost and moisture use in fallows," he said.

"Our hope is that we can work on this number and reduce it down."

Mr Young said resistant weeds were a growing problem across the country and if growers did not adopt integrated weed management strategies, it could force them out of grain growing in the long-term.

He said AHRI had a strong track record of finding solutions that worked, giving growers confidence in the future of the grain industry.

"GRDC is committed to looking for solutions to manage the issue of herbicide resistance and to offer solutions to growers, hence why this funding has been given to a group that has a good proven track record on the ground both scientifically and through developing practical solutions to growers," he said.

Based at the University of Western Australia, AHRI is now a national program, researching the issue of herbicide resistance across the country.

Mr Young said as part of its national approach, AHRI would research resistance issues in Australia's north-eastern grain belt on the east coast.

He said other projects included targeted tillage work.

"For example, how do we use a topsoil cultivation implement to selectively take weed seeds out," he said.

The Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative was established by the GRDC in 1998 with initial funding of $500,000 a year.

At that time, it was primarily focused on WA issues.

AHRI director Stephen Powles said the group had been critical in driving a cultural change in tackling WA's burgeoning weed resistance problem, encouraging farmers to consider non-chemical weed management strategies.

"Our farmers here in WA are managing resistance well," Professor Powles said.

"We recognise that it is still a major problem but it's become a manageable issue because farmers are diversifying their strategies not overly relying on chemical."

Professor Powles said he would stay on as a full-time director with the organisation for 2 1/2 years and, after that, would look at part-time options.

The $7.4 million funding agreement is for five years, and AHRI will continue to secure other external funding sources with this arrangement.

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