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Beyond the Bale : Feb 07 - Mar 07
DNA tests developed by the Pasture Soil Biology Program with AWI support are helping identify constraints to pasture productivity.Widespread damage to subclover seedling roots has been detected in a survey of pastures across three states encompassing the south-east of South Australia, the south-west of Western Australia and the southern tablelands and south-west slopes of New South Wales. The damage is most likely associated with root-rotting fungi and was detected at each of 18 sites where CSIRO Plant Industry, the University of Western Australia and South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) researchers established field bioassay experiments during the autumn-winter of 2006. On average, roots on two-thirds of subclover test plants were damaged. Even in the best situation, damage affected 40 per cent of roots. "Dry seasons are not conducive to root disease, so this level of damage is alarming and indicates that there is a persistent and costly impact on pasture plant establishment and production that warrants further investigation to develop management strategies," says Dr Bob Hannam, coordinator of the Pasture Soil Biology Program. Towards that goal, SARDI researchers have developed a series of DNA-based assays for pathogenic and beneficial organisms as well as plant roots. "These assays serve as research tools to better understand soil biology and help minimise biological constraints in Australian pastures," Dr Hannam says. The assay targets 16 soil-borne pathogens, some mycorrhizal families and three pasture roots. More are planned for development. Importantly, the SARDI assays can identify and quantify not just the pathogens but also the beneficial microbes and plant roots in the same soil sample. "These new assays will help us study the interactions between microbes and plant roots under different pasture management systems," Dr Hannam says. "Because a similar suite of DNA assays were previously developed for soil pathogens that affect grain crops, we are now able to study the interplay between soil-borne pasture and crop disease in mixed-farming systems." An exciting development is the prospect that the pasture DNA assay can also detect functional (or active) plant roots in paddock-scale environments: "Once verified, we expect that Fungi rooted out as pasture nemesis 6PASTURES BEYOND THE BALE An innovative pastures project is testing native shrubs for use in mixed-forage systems designed to better withstand Australia's dry climate By Gio Braidotti In the hard-hit northern sheep/wheatbelt of Western Australia, as crops and pasture failed in the spring of 2006, growers near Binnu, 100 kilometres north of Geraldton, witnessed a native perennial shrub survive and provide palatable feed for sheep while other food sources dried up. The saltbush-like shrub called Rhagodia not only remained green without rain, it could be established during prolonged periods of low rainfall. "All the farmers that sowed test plantations of two or three hectares are saying they wish they had more," says Tim Wiley, the Geraldton-based development officer for the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA). "They see the shrub as a way to drought-proof their farms." Based on the WA experience, Rhagodia was recommended for inclusion in the Enrich Project, a national R&D effort to use native plants to construct uniquely Sheep grazing on acacia leaves. PHOTO: EVAN COLLIS Native plants boost grazing options
Feb 07 - Mar 07 Supplement
Dec 06 - Jan 07