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The challenge

Maintaining crop productivity under a chemically limited future

Modern agricultural systems rely on agrichemicals to achieve and maintain high crop productivity. Their use has positive effects for yield increases and improving global food security. However, intensive farming and agrichemical overuse contributes to soil and water contamination, loss of biodiversity, concerns for the safety of food and fibre products, and development of pathogen resistance to agrichemicals.

Biofungicide evaluation in the glasshouse for Sclerotinia disease suppression on canola.

Broad acre and horticultural industries suffer annual losses of 10-40 per cent or more due to fungal pathogens, and these pathogens are not going away with agricultural intensification and future climatic scenarios predicting increased fungal disease outbreaks. Social, economic and environmental factors are driving a future where agrichemical use will be increasingly restricted and our ability to control these diseases will be impacted. Consequently, this has led to a shift in interest towards sustainable alternatives and transitioning to new crop protection solutions.

Our response

Developing effective and sustainable alternatives

A promising approach to achieve this goal is the use of biological crop enhancement solutions for crop disease management, including biocontrol agents. The biocontrol of fungal pathogens (bio-fungicides) has several benefits compared to conventional synthetic fungicides. They have a reduced risk for humans, animals, and the environment, and are less likely to develop pathogen resistance associated with an over-reliance on single-molecule modes of action.

Our aim is to develop novel bio-formulations with a wide range of protection to fungal diseases. We isolate new microbial biocontrols, and discover, predict, and functionally characterise their bioactive natural products effective at controlling fungal disease. We also optimise these biocontrol strains and their fermentation conditions to achieve high production of biofungicides for crop protection.

The results

Killing the pathogen with a natural foe

Our research has identified strains of Actinobacteria from soils and plants that act as natural enemies of plant pathogens. While their native roles are important for plant health and soil and rhizosphere ecology, they are well suited for the industrial microbiological production of natural products that inhibit the growth of a broad range of fungal pathogens and maintain plant health.

In the past few years, CSIRO has partnered with Nufarm to conduct a research and feasibility study to develop and investigate a novel bio-formulation derived from one of CSIRO’s Actinobacteria strains. We successfully validated the disease control capability of the novel bio-formulation in a Canola-Sclerotinia pathogen system. Savings of greater than $40 million per annum for control of just this one fungal disease of canola are foreseeable in Australian alone.

CSIRO continues its partnership with Nufarm through a CRC-P where the team are working towards pre-commercial production of the novel Actinobacteria bio-formulation for control of Sclerotinia in Canola and evaluate the product’s ability to control a wider range of pathogens and crop diseases.

Our Actinobacteria biocontrol research program is supported by domestic partners including RDCs, regional departments of agriculture, and the Microbiomes for One System Health (MOSH) Future Science Platform.

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