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USQ to help India minimise nematode impacts on wheat, chickpeas

Big group of people
USQ’s Dr Rebecca Zwart (far right) and her CCH colleagues (from left) Dr Kirsty Owen, Neil Robinson, Jason Sheedy, Roslyn Reen and Tim Clewett with Dr Suresh Tiwari.

A team of scientists from the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) Centre for Crop Health (CCH) is set to share their expertise in monitoring and reducing the impact of nematodes on wheat and chickpeas with India.

Led by USQ Senior Research Fellow Dr Rebecca Zwart, the project has been made possible by a grant from the Australian Government through the Australia-India Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The project is entitled Enhancing awareness of the threat of root-lesion nematodes in India, and is a collaboration between CCH, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru Agricultural University (JNKVV) in Jabalpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Dr Zwart said the project was the ideal vehicle for scientists based on the Darling Downs to share their knowledge and foster collaboration to reduce the impact of root-lesion nematodes, which are emerging as a serious problem in chickpea crops in Madhya Pradesh.

“Research into the effect of root-lesion nematodes on crop health and yields started on the Darling Downs in the 1970s, and has produced some valuable results for Australian growers,” Dr Zwart said.

“It has led to the development of wheat and chickpea varieties with improved levels of resistance to root-lesion nematodes, and given us information about the varieties to grow which will minimise crop losses and reduce nematode populations in the soil that are likely to attack subsequent crops.”

Root-lesion nematodes are microscopic parasites which inhibit the plant’s ability to take up water and nutrients, and high populations of them in the soil can reduce wheat yields by up to 50 per cent, and chickpea yields by about 20 per cent.

Dr Zwart has recently returned to Australia after eight years working in agricultural research in India.

She said a key objective of the project was to increase research capacity in nematology for correct diagnosis so the extent of root-lesion nematode infestations in Indian soils could be gauged and effective management strategies could be implemented.

“Root-lesion nematodes are easy to misdiagnose as infested crops show indistinct above-ground symptoms; they could be responsible for yield losses which are currently being blamed on fungal diseases or nutrient and water deficiencies,” Dr Zwart said.

“They could make some big gains to agricultural productivity if root-lesion nematode is correctly diagnosed and managed, and what we will be doing is showing Indian researchers how we have done the same over here.”

Professor of Nematology at the JNKVV University Dr Suresh Tiwari is the principal co-ordinator for this project in India, and visited the CCH research facilities in Toowoomba in September.

Following Dr Tiwari’s visit, the project will see Dr Zwart and her USQ colleagues Dr Kirsty Owen, Ros Reen, Neil Robinson, Jason Sheedy and Tim Clewett travel to New Delhi and Jabalpur in February.

“We’ll be explaining our experience in developing a reliable system for testing for root-lesion nematodes in our environment and strategies we use to manage nematode populations in field,” Dr Zwart said.

CCH Director Professor Gavin Ash said the project was a tremendous opportunity for Australian scientists to show how research could deliver agronomic and economic benefits.

“Research conducted in Toowoomba has been crucial for helping Australian growers get on top of the nematode problem, and the Centre is delighted to be involved in this project which can deliver so much to improve cropping systems and profitability in India,” Professor Ash said.

“I congratulate Rebecca on initiating this project.”

On behalf of the CCH scientists involved, USQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Jan Thomas thanked the Australia-India Council for funding the project.

“The Centre for Crop Health is lucky to have a team that includes some of Australia’s best and brightest nematologists and crop pathologists,” Professor Thomas said.

“This opportunity for a team from the Centre to work with India’s key agricultural research institutes shows the rigour of our research, and the profile of the outcomes it has delivered.”