Crop industry urged to prepare for more viruses

Crop industry urged to prepare for more severe, more frequent viruses

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The Australian grains industry is being warned to look out for more extreme viruses hitting crops more often.

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Roger Jones, adjunct professor at the University of Western Australia, warns crop viruses will be an even larger problem in the future.

Roger Jones, adjunct professor at the University of Western Australia, warns crop viruses will be an even larger problem in the future.

JUST as in human health, the plant breeding sector says preparedness for novel disease is critical in ensuring the grains industry can handle any unexpected disease incursions.

A researcher from The University of Western Australia's Institute of Agriculture has led a comprehensive review of virus disease research in Australia's cereal and oilseed crops since the 1950s and has some sobering news for the Aussie grains industry.

UWA adjunct professor Roger Jones said Aussie ag needed to prepare for 'potentially devastating' future virus disease epidemics.

In recent years, plant viruses such as beet western yellows virus, now known as turnip yellows virus, which hit canola hard in 2014, have caused widespread yield loss for some croppers.

Prof Jones said crop viruses could cause damage not only to yield but also to crop quality.

He said these virus-induced crop losses ranged from minor to complete crop failure and were increasing in magnitude.

"A comprehensive review of the biology, epidemiology and management of damaging virus diseases of these critically important crops was therefore both overdue and timely," he said.

All 31 viruses known to infect the diverse range of cereal and oilseed crops grown in the continent's temperate, Mediterranean, subtropical and tropical cropping regions were included in the review.

Seven of these viruses are currently of major economic importance.

The source of the viruses was also looked at, and there is a common culprit.

Depending on the virus concerned and climatic conditions, the most important virus vectors that spread each of the 31 viruses were aphids, whiteflies, thrips, leafhoppers or mites.

Looking into the future Prof Jones said the management of both the viruses and their vectors was complicated by a changing climate.

"Climate change, induced climate instability and extreme weather events have altered virus epidemiology and vector distributions and decreased the effectiveness of virus and vector control measures," he said.

"Effective virus management is being influenced by increased insecticide resistance in key insect and mite vectors, the development of resistance-breaking virus strains, and insufficient industry awareness of virus diseases.

"Further even more damaging crop viruses and more-efficient virus vector species are also likely to spread to Australia from other world regions."

Professor Jones said there was a pressing need for more research funding and other resources to focus on addressing virus disease threats to Australia's grains industries.

"The review recommends that future research into virus diseases in Australian cereal and oilseed crops should be adequately resourced to ensure they are protected," he said.

Professor Jones co-authored the review with Dr Benjamin Congdon from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Dr Murray Sharman from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Drs Piotr Trebicki and Solomon Maina of Agriculture Victoria, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

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The story Crop industry urged to prepare for more viruses first appeared on Farm Online.

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