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MLA Science Forum seeks solutions to pasture dieback

03 July 2020

A recently convened Pasture Dieback Science Forum was an opportunity for further collaboration amongst key researchers and red meat industry groups as work continues to find solutions to the destructive pasture condition, for which mealybug is the leading suspect.

Pasture dieback causes death of grass pastures across a range of sown and native species. It is prevalent across northern, central and south-east Queensland and was also confirmed on the north coast of New South Wales in March this year.

The Forum, initiated by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), brought together researchers who have previously undertaken or are currently undertaking research and development (R&D) related to pasture dieback, specialist scientists, industry bodies and red meat producers.

It involved presentations and discussions of key scientific outcomes and data from R&D to date, both MLA and non-MLA funded.

MLA General Manager, Research, Development and Adoption, Michael Crowley, said the Science Forum reinforced strong support for ongoing, collaborative R&D into why dieback occurs with a focus on monitoring, detection and effective management solutions.

“There is clearly a compelling case that mealybug is the major cause of pasture dieback and the Forum supported the need for on-going investment in this area, given the body of evidence into the role of mealybug,” Mr Crowley said.

“Evidence suggests mealybug - which is commonly found in affected pastures - is causing a breakdown of plant defences, making them susceptible to a complex of pathogens causing death.”

“However, what remains unclear is why we see episodic outbreaks of pasture dieback and this points to underlying factors, for example environmental, that also merit further research,” Mr Crowley said.

“Pasture dieback remains a complex issue and because we have gaps in understanding, subsequent treatment and management options will not be simple until we further understand why episodic outbreaks occur.”

Seven new MLA funded projects focused on pasture dieback will soon get underway which directly address the research, development and adoption priorities for grassfed beef and sheepmeat industries.

“These projects will undertake research into remote sensing and detection, diagnostic analysis of pathogenic organisms present in affected pastures and effective management solutions.

“This will help to improve our understanding of the recurring nature of pasture dieback so red meat producers can develop more resilient management systems, similar to drought management.”

While pasture dieback R&D is ongoing, producers in affected regions are being encouraged to undertake good farm hygiene and biosecurity practices around the movement of stock, equipment and materials.

Producers who are concerned they have pasture dieback on their property should contact the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries customer call centre on 132 523, or in NSW, the Exotic Plant Pest hotline on 1800 084 881.