Natural control options for pasture dieback to be investigated

Natural control options for pasture dieback on radar

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Pasture dieback is affecting Queensland producers, with extensive research underway to find the root cause.

Pasture dieback is affecting Queensland producers, with extensive research underway to find the root cause.

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Natural control agents such as a microscopic wasp and New Zealand rye grasses will be investigated as possible solutions for spreading pasture dieback.

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Natural control agents such as a microscopic wasp and New Zealand rye grasses will be investigated in the fight to stop pasture dieback.

A workshop held in Biloela last week by Meat and Livestock Australia to discuss the spread of dieback across Central Queensland was attended by producers, researchers, agronomists, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, NSW Department of Primary Industries and AgForce representatives.

MLA's Doug McNicholl, manager of supply chain sustainability innovation said the event was held to provide producers with an update on research and development activities.

"We have been attempting to hone in on what is doing the damage, and based on the results from a large metagenetic study involving next generation sequencing, coupled with field observations, it appears that a mealy bug, Heliococcus nr (near) summervillei is the culprit," he said.

"However there are a range of additional contributing factors, including environmental conditions, which are also being examined.

"We don't understand why the mealy bugs are present to the extent observed, and we are yet to unearth a cost-effective, scalable and lasting solution for red meat producers.

"This is a key focus of future R&D."

Mr McNicholl said producers at the workshop voiced concerns around the economic, social, and environmental impact of pasture dieback.

"Their feedbase is severely impacted which has knock-on effects on meat production right through the supply chain," he said.

"Producers also spoke of the mental battle of making tough decisions around forced livestock movements and sales, concerns for future income, and the frustration of watching land degradation occur before their eyes with little available tools to fix the problem.

"They desperately need a solution, however unfortunately we aren't aware of a quick win, silver bullet at this point in time.

"However, despite little to no historical research on Heliococcus nr (near) summervillei, we are aware of some promising longer-term options for its control, including natural control agents such as a microscopic wasp.

"We are also interested to investigate grasses that incorporate endophytes which deter the mealy bug, with some examples of this in rye grasses in New Zealand."

MLA has investigated reports of dieback from North Queensland, Emerald, coastal areas and even northern NSW, but producers in Central Queensland seem to be most impacted based on observations to date.

"We need improved dieback detection and monitoring technology to enable more rapid and accurate identification and monitoring, which is another area of focus for future R&D," Mr McNicholl said.

Mr McNicholl said the MLA will continue to work with research organisations, QDAF, NSW DPI and other stakeholders to finalise the plan for the recently announced MLA/Commonwealth Department of Agriculture funded research and development program.

"We will provide an update to stakeholders when this plan is finalised and as key activities kick-off," he said.

RELATED STORY: Pasture dieback researchers working to find cause of mystery killer

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