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New $100 million grains research centre at Curtin to lift farm productivity

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The Hon Barnaby Joyce, Federal Minister for Agriculture, today launched the $100 million Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) at Curtin University – the first bilateral research agreement between the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and an Australian university.

The new Centre is a major investment that will benefit from the construction of new high quality research facilities at Curtin that will be used for research and development to sustainably reduce the impact of important grain diseases and ultimately, to provide solutions to critical factors impacting farm business resilience, including drought.

The Centre also aims to integrate molecular sciences with field based agronomy to assist farmers to understand and apply new technologies.

Professor Deborah Terry, Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University said she was delighted to see GRDC’s $30 million investment in the bilateral agreement, reflecting a long-term commitment to Curtin and to agricultural research in Western Australia.

“This agreement is also the first example of alignment between investment in agriculture research and education, with the Grain Industry’s National Research, Development and Extension Strategy,” Professor Terry said.

“With the agricultural industry undergoing rapid changes amid uncertain global economic markets and increasing climate variability leading to crop losses, there has never been a more critical time to invest in agricultural research and development.

“Curtin’s bilateral agreement with GRDC is a significant investment in the area of crop and disease management and I look forward to seeing the research outcomes really making a difference to farm businesses and the wider agricultural industry.”

GRDC Chairman Mr Richard Clark said this milestone agreement would increase the efficiency of investment in sustainable crop disease management as well as provide key strategic capability and infrastructure.

“Ultimately this investment will fund targeted RD&E to reduce the production losses caused by crop diseases. Wheat diseases alone cost Australian grain growers on average about $913 million a year – that’s over $76 per hectare of production losses that could be returned to growers’ back pockets.”

Among the nine programs to be housed at the CCDM is a program on agronomy and farm business management – both key considerations for drought tolerance and industry resilience.

The Centre is commencing with a project aimed specifically at managing risk in low rainfall production areas, such as Western Australia’s Eastern Wheatbelt.

Notes to editor:

The nine programs within the CCDM:

Program 1: Agronomy and Agribusiness-focussed activities
Leader: Professor Mark Gibberd, Curtin University
Brief overview: This program will focus on developing an industry-wide capacity for improved disease control; including research and education that combines field-based agronomy, farm systems management and agribusiness.

Program 2: Extension and Communication
Leader: Mr John Noonan, Curtin University
Brief overview: This team facilitates the two-way flow of information from farmers and their experiences in the paddock to the lab bench, glasshouse and field trial and back to the farmers to enable improved management practices.

Program 3: Stagonospora
Leader: Dr Kar-Chun Tan, Curtin University
Brief overview: This team investigates the pathogenicity mechanism of Parastagonospora nodorum (causal agent of septoria nodorum blotch on wheat). The team’s aim is to develop antifungal strategies that target weaknesses in the fungal metabolism.

Program 4: Tan Spot
Leader: Dr Caroline Moffat, Curtin University
Brief overview: This team researches tan spot (yellow spot) disease – the most economically damaging wheat disease in Australia. The team’s aim is to provide tools to reduce this to a disease of minor economic impact.

Program 5 & 8: Net Form Net Blotch & Powdery Barley Mildew
Leader: Dr Simon Ellwood, Curtin University
Brief overview: These teams seek durable resistance for growers to two fungal diseases in barley: powdery mildew and net blotch, the two most important pathogens affecting this crop in Australia.

Program 6: Sclerotinia – Stem Rot of Canola
Leader: TBA
Brief overview: This team seeks new knowledge to generate more effective and sustainable solutions for this disease, which is a major pathogen of canola, and a minor pathogen of other crops.

Program 7: Pulse Pathology and Genetics
Leader: Dr Judith Lichtenzvieg, Curtin University
Brief overview: The Pulse Pathology and Genetics group contributes to the generation of scientific knowledge underlying the management of major biotic constraints in the production of chickpea, field pea, lentil and faba bean.

Program 9: Fungicide Resistance, Benchmarking and New Actives
Leader: Dr Fran Lopez-Ruiz, Curtin University
Brief overview: This team aims to contribute to the development of new anti-resistance strategies for the control and mitigation of fungicide resistance outbreaks in Australian crops by providing a better knowledge of resistance development in the field.

CCDM Objectives:

1. To be the National Centre for Crop and Disease Management as part of the National Grains Research, Development and Extension Strategy.
2. To promote an efficient and effective investment in research and development that will deliver benefits to the Australian grains industry.
3. To improve long-term research capacity that is focused on delivering benefits to the Australian grains industry.
4. To improve, through education, a skilled workforce that meets the needs of the current and future Australian grains industry.

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