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Crop disease costs Australia millions of dollars every year



Crop disease costs Australia millions of dollars every year and threatens Western Australia's annual yield of 11 million tonnes of wheat worth $2.8 billion. Researchers at The University of Western Australia believe they can lower the risk if they teach farmers and farm consultants, or agronomists, how better to recognise a problem in their crops as soon as they see it. Ninety per cent of WA farmers consult an agronomist.

Professor Nancy Longnecker and Ms Dominie Wright in UWA's School of Animal Biology have received a grant of $45,000 from the Council of Grain Growers Organisation to come up with a framework to ensure a more productive and biosecure future for Australian grain growers.

Ms Wright, who also works as a plant pathologist with the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, has been running lab-based diagnostic services for broadacre farmers for 16 years. While the workload varies from season to season and year to year, on average she tests 500 samples in the main growing season from June to November, although sometimes she tests up to 1000.

She also runs regional workshops for farmers and agronomists to help them identify diseases so they can act on them immediately.

With Professor Longnecker, Ms Wright is now working out the best strategies for teaching farmers and agronomists, based on education research, their own experience and feedback they have received over the years. They predict, for example, that adult learners prefer more interaction and more hands-on activities, and that newer agronomists want more technology- such as online applications (apps) - built into their learning.

Ms Wright will assess other rural training courses and go to the USA to observe workshops run to develop new skills of grain growers there.

Ms Wright believes that the more farmers and agronomists know about crop disease identification, the more they will be on the lookout for other pests and threats to the nation's biosecurity.

"Plant disease identification training will have an immediate impact on the current skill level in growers and agronomists," Ms Wright said. "While this project will focus on agriculture, the theoretical framework we develop will be useful in other situations, such as environmental education, nutrition and health."

by S. C.
27 january 2014, World News > Oceania

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