Monday, 11 November 2013

Scientists are on the attack against rice blast, the international fungal disease that stopped the rice industry in its tracks in northern Western Australia three years ago.

New research is being funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and involves scientists from the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, the University of Western Australia and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Project leader, Vincent Lanoiselet from the Department of Agriculture and Food, said that work over the next three years should lead to a rice blast screening program and help develop an economically viable rice industry in Western Australia.

It would also increase the resilience of rice growers in traditional Australian growing areas against this important disease threat.

"In 2010 commercial rice crops on the Ord River Irrigation Area were looking very promising," Dr Lanoiselet explained. "But development halted immediately when rice blast was found and crops could not be exported for quarantine reasons.

"The disease is now endemic to northern Australia but south-eastern Australia remains free."

The new research has a budget of $645,000 over three years and will be used to screen resistant varieties from the International Rice Research Institute to find the best for Australian conditions.

About 25 new rice varieties, each containing different resistance genes, are now in post-entry quarantine at the Department of Agriculture and Food in South Perth. On release, plants will be multiplied to assess their potential for northern Australia.

The most promising will then be used to breed Australian varieties resistant to rice blast.

Rice blast (caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae ) is one of the most important rice diseases worldwide, estimated to destroy sufficient rice to feed 60 million people each year.

Australia can produce more than a million tonnes of rice annually and the industry feeds around 20 million people per day. The industry is concentrated in the Riverina of NSW and has a turnover exceeding a billion dollars in a normal year.

Growing rice in northern Australia could help drought-proof production during dry seasons in the south. Rice has also demonstrated potential as cattle folder in northern Australia, Dr Lanoiselet said.

Dr Lanoiselet said the new research would take place in Perth, Kununurra, north Queensland and the NSW Riverina. It would not involve introducing the rice blast pathogen to any part of Australia, including the Riverina, which does not have the disease.

"This is very important work for the national industry, and we believe the funds invested will yield a valuable dividend over the next few years," Dr Lanoiselet said.

"This should enable the industry to resume development in the north, while becoming prepared should rice blast reach the rice growing regions of south-eastern Australia."

Photo caption: Dr Vincent Lanoiselet from the Department of Agriculture and Food and fellow researcher Professor Martin Barbetti from the University of Western Australia check rice plants in a glasshouse.

Media references

Jodie Thomson/Lisa Bertram, media liaison (DAFWA) (+61 8)  9368 3937
Dr Vincent Lanoiselet, research officer (DAFWA)  (+61 8)  9368 3263  /  (+61 4) 00 208 925
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (UWA Institute of Agriculture)  (+61 8)  6488 7012  /  (+61 4) 11 155 396


UWA Institute of Agriculture