Newsletter December 2007

Welcome to the December 2007 Update from Peracto

American farmers are receiving record prices for their corn, largely due to its use in ethanol production and the impact of high oil prices. It is not surprising that food prices are on the increase across much of the world as the link between energy and food production becomes stronger. However, I was a little surprised that part of the blame for higher food prices in the USA is being placed on the Australian drought. This shows just how great the drought problem is here and how far reaching is its impact.

Our farmers are hard hit in most regions, with a flow on affect to those doing business with farmers. Peracto’s business is impacted from both the direct impact on our clients and also the difficulty in locating the ideal trial sites to do our work. The quality that we so eagerly seek for our clients is very much dependent on getting sites to work on that are well suited to the type of information we are trying to gather, often the most critical part of our projects.

In a time of depressed conditions we are mindful of the need to be prepared to provide services ready-to-go when our clients are better positioned to move forward more rapidly with their valuable R&D projects. We retain a very positive outlook for agriculture in our region of the world and continue to plan for the future R&D needs of our industry. It is hard times like many are feeling right now that help focus us on what needs to be done for the future.

In this newsletter we are pleased to provide more information on additional and enhanced services we are now providing. We will also be providing further updates on our new strategies for the future over the coming months.

Ian Macleod, Managing Director

Peracto makes appointment in Melbourne

In September, Peracto appointed Patrick O’Halloran as Regional Manager of its Melbourne operations, based in Werribee.

Patrick brings to Peracto extensive experience across a range of agricultural commodities. Most recently he held the position of Executive Manager for the Victorian Farmers Federation, where he managed business operations for the Livestock division. Patrick also has a background in quality assurance for the grains industry, and hopes to apply his knowledge in the field to develop operations in Melbourne.

“We are very pleased to have been able to recruit a manager with Patrick’s experience to manage our Melbourne operations” said Peracto Managing Director, Ian Macleod.

“Patrick has a strong background in agriculture and qualifications in agricultural science and business administration, skills that we value highly in our company and make him well suited to this role.”

Tell us a bit about your role as Regional Manager, Melbourne.

I am responsible for managing Peracto’s operations at its site in Werribee. Although Peracto has been located at Werribee for almost two years it has recently taken over operations of the entire site. This is an exciting time to have joined the company because of the opportunity to build the new operation which includes Peracto’s field trials and also the bio-evaluation unit, previously operated by Eureka AgResearch. My role is to manage the resources and operations for the delivery of services to existing customers and drive the company’s plans for growth and development of the site.

What experience do you bring to Peracto?

My previous role with the VFF was in management and advocacy on behalf of Victoria’s farmers. My experience in advocacy will be important in helping Peracto in finalising the takeover of operations and eventually ownership of the bio-evaluation unit on the site and promotion of our capabilities to current and potential clients. I have experience in the implementation of management systems which places me in good stead to bed down systems and procedures at Werribee that meet the high standards for performance that are maintained throughout the rest of the company. Experience in communication with customers, staff and the public is something that I will draw on heavily to build the profile of the Werribee operation. Finally, I bring significant experience in strategy and planning and I see the opportunity to apply this in the development of Werribee, and also to make a significant contribution to the whole company.

What are some of the current activities operating out of Melbourne?

Field trial work mainly in horticultural crops, as Werribee is in the heart of one of Victoria’s main vegetable growing areas. We are also gaining experience and obtaining an increasing amount of work in viticulture, flowers and ornamentals. We expect more field work in broadacre cropping which has crept further south as the southern farming areas experience drier and milder winter conditions that are suited to the production of cereal, oilseed and legume crops. While many of our trials are conducted on farms we also have access to land surrounding the Werribee site where we can conduct trials in-situ cutting trial cost and time.

Now that we are operating the bio-evaluation unit our capabilities have expanded significantly. The bio-evaluation unit conducts bio-efficacy trials for herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and fertilisers in a controlled environment. Testing protocols have been developed over 15 years. The unit’s facilities include a polyhouse, track sprayers, controlled environment rooms and a rainfall simulator. These facilities enable us to closely simulate field conditions for a wide range of issues related to the use of agrochemicals. This is particularly valuable in the early development of new chemical actives or better formulations. Tests are carried out by experienced staff, guaranteeing clients receive good advice and quality results.

Are there any exciting future developments that you can tell us about?

There are many developments proposed for Werribee. The first is the continued operation of the bio-evaluation unit. Our plans for the unit include a significant expansion in greenhouses, development of new protocols, introduction of a plant pathologist and laboratory facilities to increase the range of pathogens we can work with in evaluating fungicides. We also hope to expand our use of surrounding land for field trials. Our aim is to provide a complete package of services that will help companies develop, register and market products cost effectively and in the shortest practical time.

Peracto staff will soon benefit from a company training program which is currently being developed with our neighbours, the Gordon Institute of TAFE. It is expected to commence in 2008. Werribee will become the centre for delivery of Peracto’s staff training and development program. The first participants will be the intake of graduates for which the company has recently advertised.

New herbicide registered for vegetable industry

Frontier-P (dimethenamid-P), a new herbicide developed by Peracto, is now registered for weed management in green beans, navy beans, pea, pumpkin, kabocha and sweet corn, as well as maize and poppies.

Phillip Frost, Peracto Regional Manager, Tasmania, believes that the registration of Frontier-P is a significant event for the vegetable industry, with many growers set to reap benefits from the weed management product.

“The availability of crop protection products for Australian vegetable growers has been an ongoing issue,” Phillip said. “However, the introduction of new products is very important to the continued efficiency and sustainability of the vegetable industry.

“Unfortunately the registration of a new herbicide in vegetable crops is extremely rare. For example, the only other selective broadleaf herbicide (based on a new active ingredient) to be registered in green bean and pumpkin crops in the past 27 years is Command, which was also registered as a direct result of Peracto’s research.”

Manufactured by BASF, and distributed through Serve-Ag, Frontier-P has been registered for the management of a variety of weeds, including crowsfoot grass (Eleusine indica), barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus galli), summer grass (Digitaria ciliaris), amaranthus (Amaranthus spp.), sow or milk thistle (Sonchus oleraceous) and wild hops (Nicandra physaloides). Initially, registration is approved for weed management in navy beans, green beans, processing peas, pumpkin, kabocha, sweet corn, maize and poppies, however there is potential for extending its use to other crops.

Gavin Heard, BASF’s Technical & Regulatory Officer – Agricultural Products, believes that the development of Frontier P was made possible through the strong support provided by the vegetable industry.

“This is a leading example of collaborations between research and industry in bringing new products to market. Industry participation, like that seen with Frontier-P, is vital to our business in getting projects across the line,” Gavin said.

Tasmanian bean grower Ian Young is delighted to finally see the herbicide available to growers. As a long-term supporter of Frontier-P’s development, he was involved in a number of commercial trials for the herbicide during the research stages of development.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this product to become commercially available, and I’m just happy that it’s finally here,” Ian said.

Some of this work was facilitated by HAL in partnership with AUSVEG and part funded by the national vegetable levy. The Australian Government provides matched funding for all HAL R&D activities.

Sugarcane and cotton research in North Queensland

Based in Bowen, Peracto’s North Queensland operations have a natural focus on the vegetable and tree crops representative of horticulture in the Dry Tropics. However, in recent times, Peracto has expanded its contract research capabilities to include sugarcane and cotton crops.

Operating between the sugarcane regions of the Burdekin to the north and the Proserpine and Mackay regions to the south, sugarcane research activities have been undertaken across a range of climatic conditions, soil types and cane cropping systems.

“Our recent activities include trials of herbicides for pre-emergent and post-emergent weed control, as well as trials of fertilisers and microbial soil amendments for increased yield and environmental sustainability,” said Chris Monsour, Peracto Regional Manager, North Queensland.

“We have also been conducting insecticide trials for the control of canegrubs, the Australian sugar industry’s worst pest, which costs the industry millions of dollars each year.”

Since the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator’s (OGTR) approval of Monsanto’s licence application to commercialise Bollgard II ® and Roundup Ready ® cotton technologies above the 22ndparallel in northern Australia, the prospects for the growth of the cotton industry in North Queensland have advanced considerably.

“Some commercial cotton was produced in the Burdekin in 2007 and although a number of industry, community and infrastructure issues will need to be resolved, with an abundant supply of water from the Burdekin dam, the Burdekin region has the potential to support large-scale cultivation of cotton in the future,” Chris said.

“In the Dry Tropics, cotton is planted in early autumn and harvested in late spring. Contra-season planting of cotton in the north enables research, breeding and seed production to be conducted during months of the year when this is not possible in traditional cotton growing regions in the south.”

This has provided Peracto with the opportunity to be involved in a variety of cotton-related research activities. This included both insecticide and herbicide trials during 2007 in both commercial plantings and small plantings of cotton grown on Peracto North Queensland’s research farm in Bowen.

Rhizobium research reveals negative herbicide effects on signalling

Recent research into the effect of the herbicide trifluralin on rhizobium bacteria has revealed that high levels of certain herbicides may have a negative effect on the bacterium.

Rhizobium bacteria are responsible for fixing nitrogen in a symbiotic relationship with legumes by forming nodules. However, research has found that herbicides, like trifluralin, can have negative effects on the nodulation process, resulting in fewer nodules.

“The trial aimed to investigate why nodulation is being disrupted and at what stage of nodulation the effect is occurring,” said Peracto researcher Melissa Quinn.

“The laboratory experiment sought to establish the effect of trifluralin on the survival of rhizobia in vitro. We found that trifluralin significantly reduced the growth of colonies at both the normal registered rate of 1.5L/ha, and at twice the registered rate compared to the untreated control. This suggests that trifluralin reduces the number of rhizobia available to plants in the soil.”

Field trials were conducted in field peas cv. Morgan, in Moorilim, Victoria over the 2007 season. The aim was to determine if trifluralin reduced nodulation and to see if the addition of extra luteolin decreased the effects of trifluralin.

“Luteolin is a flavonoid which is naturally secreted by the root hairs of field peas to attract the bacteria to the root prior to nodule formation. Recent research has found that many agricultural chemicals impact on the signalling between legumes and rhizobia by blocking a key receptor in Rhizobium bacteria. Once this receptor has been blocked, the rhizobia cannot find the plant by following the luteolin gradient to the root hair, as they would normally.”

The results of the field experiments indicated that trifluralin had a negative impact on nodulation. However, the addition of luteolin increased the ability of the plants to form nodules in the presence of trifluralin. The presence of luteolin competing with the trifluralin in the soil means the likelihood of the receptor being blocked is reduced, thereby reducing the impact on signalling.

“There are two options for industry,” Melissa said.

“In the short term, the addition of luteolin should be considered. However, research should be conducted into the optimal rate of luteolin in terms of value for money and nodulation.

“In the long term, further research should be conducted into the option of plant breeding. If legume varieties could be developed that secrete higher levels of the flavonoids, like luteolin, the potential to increase nitrogen fixation by preventing the effects of trifluralin is enormous.”

Stop the rot! New research is putting the lid on white onion rot

Australian onion growers are one step closer to managing the destructive effects of onion white rot, following trials investigating suitable post-plant applications for the prevention of the disease.

The research has the potential to improve the long-term sustainability of onion production and boost profits for growers nation-wide.

Onion white rot, Sclerotium cepivorum, is the most widespread and destructive disease affecting onions and other Allium crops. This persistent, soil-borne fungus has been known to cause complete crop loss, and is found in most onion growing regions in Australia.

According to Dr Hoong Pung, Principal Research Scientist with Peracto, onion white rot is known to survive for more than 15 years in the soil, making it extremely difficult to control or eradicate.

“To date, growers may be able to manage the disease if a field is known to be infected prior to planting. Onion white rot can be controlled with reasonable success with fungicides incorporated at the sowing stage, if the fungus level is not too high,” said Hoong.

“However, if fungus levels are high, these fungicide applications only provide partial control. Growers who discover white rot later currently have no management options.”

Recently Hoong’s research team conducted field trials in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania to identify potential new post-plant fungicide treatments. Eleven fungicide products were evaluated.

“We found that two products, Bayfidan EC (triadimenol) and Filan WG (boscalid), gave the most consistent disease control, and are potentially suitable fungicide alternatives. However, further research into application timing, methods and field conditions is required before conclusive recommendations can be made.”

The team is also investigating alternative treatments to be applied at the sowing stage. Growers in Tasmania have mainly relied on Folicur (tebuconazole) applied at sowing.

“This method gives good early disease control for up to 200 days, but poor control has been noted at less than 100 days. We are investigating this inconsistency,” said Hoong.

This work was facilitated by HAL in partnership with AOIA. Funding was provided by the national onion levy and voluntary contributions from Bayer CropScience Pty Ltd, Nufarm Australia Limited, Syngenta Crop Protection Pty Ltd and DuPont (Australia) Pty Ltd. The Australian Government provides matched funding for all HAL R&D activities.

Seed treatment research in cereals

Loose and covered smut diseases in cereals are a continuing problem for Australian farmers.

“Traditionally farmers ‘pickled’ their grain as an insurance against these infections,” said John Seidel, Peracto Regional Manager, NSW/VIC.

“Today more and more farmers are neglecting this critical farm hygiene activity. As a result, the smut diseases have increased in incidence and pose a constant threat to not only the farmer himself in lost yield and quality, but also to our export market in the case of bunt in wheat.”

Peracto has a range of staff with many years of expertise in research into smut diseases of cereals, and trials can be conducted across all states of Australia and NZ. As well as the usual efficacy dose response and comparisons with standard products, trials can also include crop tolerance assessments such as speed of emergence and plant establishment.

“Along with trials on smut diseases, we regularly conduct seed treatment work in cereals where the target is aphids and virus control and also on the soil diseases Pythium, Rhizoctonia and take-all.”

Peracto has a range of infected seed and inoculum to conduct trials in all cereals, such as:

  • Covered smut or bunt (Tilletia laevis and T. tritici) in wheat
  • Loose smut (Ustilago tritici) in wheat
  • Seed and soil borne flag smut (Urocystis agropyri) in wheat
  • Covered smut (Ustilago segetum var. hordei) in barley
  • Loose smut (Ustilago tritici) in barley
  • Loose/covered smut (Ustilago segetum var. hordei and U. avenae) in oats