January 13, 2015

13/01/2015: SARDI studies white grain puzzle

WHEN white grain hit the Eyre Peninsula and Upper North in Australia in 2010 and 2011, many farmers had no idea what was affecting their wheat crops, the Stock Journal reports.

While the fungal disease has rarely been seen in South Australia since, a South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) research project funded by GRDC has included a trial undertaken by Grains Internship recipient James Walter, which is helping reveal more about the disease, ensuring that the farming community is better prepared to manage it in the future.


"White grain is a fungal disease found predominantly in wheat but which can also affect barley," Mr Walter said.

The disease infects the head of the plant during late flowering or early grain-fill and shrivels the grain, rendering it non-viable.

"It gets a chalky-like appearance," he said. "It goes a pale white colour and it's fairly visible if you're looking at it to see that it's different from normal grain. Affected grain becomes non-viable and won't germinate.

"It's not very common at all. It was first discovered in 1999 in Queensland, and then it was found in South Australia in 2010.

"There were a couple of years where it was bad in South Australia, and it was getting picked up at silos. Grain was being downgraded or rejected as little was known about the disease."

Mr Walter said the white grain fungus required very specific conditions to form and spread.

"It needs to be fairly cool and very humid over a period of about 48 hours, and all of this has to be occurring during late flowering or early grain-fill stage in spring," he said.

"Cool, humid springs are not very common, so that's why it's not seen very often. If it is around, it's at such low levels that you wouldn't know about it."

Mr Walter included 26 cereal varieties - 24 wheats, one barley and one triticale variety - in his trial. Plants were grown in pots on the terraces at SARDI's Plant Research Centre at the University of Adelaide's Waite campus.

"I've grown them until they were flowering, and then at that point we inoculated them with the white grain fungus," Mr Walter said. "We mixed spores up into a solution with water and sprayed it on with a knapsack or garden sprayer. We then scored for symptoms a few weeks later."

He harvested the grain in early December, and said that some plants in the trial were showing visual signs of white grain symptoms.

"I'll be threshing it out and doing grain counts, plating it up and growing out the fungus to make sure it actually is white grain, but results on the technique look promising at this stage," he said.

"It looked like some fared better than others, but until I get the grain data back saying which ones were infected it's too early to say.

"That's one of the things that we're looking at with this - do the visual symptoms correspond to infection caused by the white grain fungus?" 

Read the article HERE.

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