Scientists test new spray to fight frost

Jo FulwoodCountryman
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WA scientists are testing a radical new technique to fight the devastating effects of frost.

The trial will investigate the impact of spraying a range of chemicals onto a wheat plant just prior to a frost event.

It is hoped the chemicals will stimulate a biological response within the plant to allow it to withstand light frost events.

Trial co-ordinator Ken Flower said chemicals, including some insecticides and fungicides, worked by eliciting responses in plants - such as the thickening of cell walls and the production of certain proteins - to protect against disease and other stress events.

He said this trial would look at the use of these types of chemicals to provoke a similar response in the plant before a frost event.

"Studies have been occurring around the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, looking at using various chemicals that will induce a response in a plant, to make it more tolerant of stress," Dr Flower said.

"Through this trial we are interested in looking at these sorts of responses to see if they can improve frost hardiness, to see if we can get the plants to respond as if they were under attack."

GRDC recently announced it would be funding a number of frost resistance trials, including a crop grazing trial and a stubble management trial.

GRDC western region manager Darren Hughes said frost was the number one issue adversely affecting WA grain growers.

"We are looking at frost management strategies in a holistic way," he said.

"Yes we can work on genetics, but we need practical farming strategies that farmers can use."

Dr Flower said if the trial showed positive results in the first year, it would need to be replicated in the field in subsequent years.

"Even in frost chambers, the conditions are sometimes not correlated to what happens in the field," he said. "Conditions are different out in the paddock and sometimes the chemicals work in the frost room but not out in the field. There is no management tool for a stem frost."

The research is to be run at the University of WA in conjunction with the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative, supported by the GRDC.

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