USQ researchers save growers $40 million in crop damage

They may be tiny – invisible, in fact, to the naked eye – but microscopic soil worms are causing huge problems for Queensland farmers.

Root-lesion nematodes, Pratylenchus thornei, are one of the state’s most destructive pests.

Found in two-thirds of fields in the northern grain region, they feast on plant roots and have a palate for wheat crops, with the annual damage bill for farmers estimated at more than $120 million every year.

At the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), researchers from the Centre for Crop Health have joined forces with the likes of Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and CSIRO – to better understand nematodes and how they interact with different crops, increasing both yields and profits for growers.

Crop health expert Professor Gavin Ash, who also heads up the USQ Institute for Life Sciences and the Environment, said the research saved farmers an estimated $41.5 million every year.

“Broadacre cropping is one of Queensland’s biggest industries, contributing around $2.5 billion to the national economy, but nematodes are significantly reducing that profitability,” Professor Ash said.

“Nematodes are extremely difficult to control because they can survive in soil for several years even after harvest, and you can’t use chemicals to eradicate them.

“Our research provides farmers with an accurate prediction of population decline if the initial population is measured after harvest.

“By working with our researchers, growers are breeding better crops and more of them.”

This research into nematology is part of the Broadacre Agriculture Initiative, a partnership between the University and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

USQ’s Centre for Crop Health is the largest research centre investigating crop health in the northern grains region.

It has the second biggest group of plant pathologists in Australia, boasting more than 30 full-time scientists.

USQ’s expertise in crop health was highlighted in the latest Australian Research Council’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) report.

ERA, which evaluates the quality of research conducted at universities around Australia, rated USQ as well above world standard in 18 areas of research including Crop and Pasture Production; Microbiology; and Agriculture, Land and Farm Management.

“We have world-class researchers producing world-class outcomes and this work is just one example of why our research is ranked well above world standard,” Professor Ash said.

usq researcher holding glass specimen
USQ's research into root-lesion nematodes is saving farmers $40 million in crop damage every year.