Wednesday 18 July 2012

Suppressive soils offer defence against grain diseases

Australia's Stock and Land journal argues that soil biology is tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ in terms of productivity gains and reports on a five-year research programme is currently being funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to address some of the knowledge gaps.   The journal suggests that high rainfall zone (HRZ) grain growers stand to increase yields and save significant amounts of money on chemicals, if the secrets of suppressive soils can be unlocked.

Associate Professor Pauline Mele, LaTrobe University and principal research scientist, Department of Primary Industries Victoria (DPI), is co-ordinating an investment in soil biology that includes a team of some 90 researchers working on 15 different projects as part of the GRDC Soil Biology Initiative II.

She says understanding suppressive soils is one of the priorities, along with monitoring soil quality for better decision making and improving nutrient availability.   “There are soils right across the country where the incidence or severity of disease is suppressed, even in the presence of the pathogen that causes it, a host plant and a favourable environment,”

Professor Mele said.   “In fact, we believe every soil has the potential to be suppressive – it’s just a matter of working out what management techniques will encourage it.

“We know the effect is due to the presence of a diverse range of ‘good’ micro-organisms, because upsetting the balance or sterilising the soil can cause the disease to strike with a vengeance.   At this stage, though, we’re still trying to identify exactly what organisms, or combination of organisms, are doing the work.”

Read more here.