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Plugging the knowledge gap on costly pasture diseases – AgResearch

AgResearch scientists want to plug a major knowledge gap on diseases in pasture, and address biosecurity threats, by reaching out to farmers.

The pathogens (germs) that cause diseases in pasture plants such as Crown rust and clover rot can have significant costs for farmers and the New Zealand economy, and in a changing climate the concern is that those losses will escalate.

AgResearch science team leader Kwasi Adusei-Fosu says there is a real gap in awareness and understanding about current diseases and the impact they are having on pastures, as well as potential future impacts.

“By building our knowledge around pasture diseases, we are also helping raise the awareness and preparedness for threats to New Zealand’s biosecurity, including the risk of new disease-causing organisms that could invade New Zealand.”

The last time New Zealand’s formal research on this topic was reviewed was in 1996, and before then in 1965.

“The lag could be because study of the impact of pasture diseases is more speculative in nature, poorly understood or neglected.”

Dr Adusei-Fosu and his colleagues at AgResearch have prepared an online survey aimed at farmers, to gauge the level of understanding of diseases present in NZ pastures, control/management strategies, financial implications, farmers’ education/capability to identify diseases and varying climatic conditions for existing/persisting diseases.

“Farmers don’t need significant knowledge of pasture and forage diseases to take part – in fact, one of the aspects the survey is probing is whether farmers have the ability to identify a disease, or enough support from the likes of MPI and scientists to confirm diseases.”

Dr Adusei-Fosu’s current research includes screening and testing pasture grasses from South Africa against other strains of rust pathogens, to see if they can offer us lessons as climate change impacts begin to bite.

“That’s the kind of work going on, but I realised it would be fantastic to hear from farmers, farm managers and agribusinesses on what they’re seeing in their operations, and in the screening experiments they’re doing as part of the process of producing seeds and coming up with new seed lines.”

Survey results will also inform an AgResearch programme aiming to reduce synthetic pesticide inputs on farm.

A second survey to be carried out at a later date will focus on understanding grower awareness of key insect pests and their current control methods. With the recent incursion of Fall armyworm and potential for other biosecurity threats, it is also timely to update knowledge in this space.

The pasture pathogen survey, which will take no more than 10 minutes to complete, can be accessed at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YR68GHJ. Those who participate will go into a draw to win one of five $100 Prezzy cards.

 

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