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Research aims to control costs of grapevine disease outbreak

Research is under way to minimise the financial costs and production losses from any future exotic disease outbreaks in the winegrape industry.

The constant threat to Australian horticulture from introduced disease was hammered home in the Queensland citrus canker outbreak three years ago. The outbreak cost growers an estimated $100 million through lost production and tree removals.

“The citrus canker outbreak resulted in the destruction of half a million trees and a ban on planting until just recently,” said Dr Bob Emmett, senior research scientist, from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries based at Irymple.

“Currently, if an exotic disease is found in a vineyard, grapevines that have or are likely to have the disease are removed, and burned or buried,” he said.

“This eradication strategy can incur significant costs to industry and the community as vineyards are re-established and returned to previous levels of production and quality.”

Dr Emmett said control methods used during an outbreak of black sigatoka in the banana industry had demonstrated the potential for alternative, less-costly control options.

“In the case of black sigatoka, removal of the entire plant was unsustainable and an alternative strategy was developed that involved partial plant removal and chemical control,” Dr Emmett said.

“The challenge is to develop alternative strategies that result in the eradication of the exotic disease while minimising negative economic and social impacts,” he said.

The Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity has established a research project to optimise strategies for the eradication of exotic plant disease incursions on perennial plants.

The project, led by Dr Mark Sosnowski, senior research officer from the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), will involve researchers from SARDI, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries and the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industries, Fisheries and Mines.

Dr Emmett will be involved in developing a protocol for evaluating new approaches to disease eradication.

“Estimating the ability to eradicate an exotic disease is difficult when the disease is not in Australia,” he said.

“Under the protocol we will use local diseases with similarities to exotic diseases as models to evaluate alternative disease incursion management strategies.

“The initial disease to be investigated is black rot, which is regarded as a high priority threat to the Australian wine industry.

“The disease occurs in many grape producing regions in North and South America where it has caused up to 80% crop losses.

“A trial will be set up to evaluate an extreme pruning strategy for eradication of black rot using the local disease, black spot as a model.”

Dr Emmett said the alternative strategies would then be tested in overseas vineyards that have the exotic disease to validate the research findings.

“The strategy aims to substantially reduce the cost of vineyard re-establishment after disease eradication,” Dr Emmett said.

If successful, the black rot eradication strategy will be included in the Viticulture Industry Biosecurity Plan and further research may be initiated to evaluate alternative eradication strategies for other high-priority exotic diseases, such as grapevine leaf rust.

This project is part of the Riverlink research network that encourages collaboration between regional research agencies in Sunraysia and the Riverland.

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