Plant health is critical to sustainable and profitable production

Research and Policy Centre team, Grain SA
Published: 31 August 2021

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The Grain SA Research and Policy Centre team manages and coordinates research efforts in a consortium-based approach. The three main research consortia are crop improvement, plant health and climate resilience and were established to address the needs of industry and government.

Further initiatives the team is involved with include food and nutrition security and farmer development innovation support, cultivar evaluations as well as human capital development. This article will provide a short overview of the plant health consortium (PHC) and highlight its key initiatives.

The team saw the need to drastically increase solution-driven, industry-oriented research focussed on the needs of grain and oilseed producers. The main aims of the PHC are to:

  • detect, survey and quantify pests and diseases;
  • prevent or reduce the incidence of pests and diseases and improve management strategies; and
  • contribute to improvements in the South African biosecurity model.

Diseases of the 2020/2021 season
In South Africa, information on the distribution and incidence of the most economically important pests and diseases is lacking. On-farm surveys are crucial to understand the challenges in crop protection and allow for priorities to be set. It is critical for industry, funders and researchers to prioritise pests and diseases according to economic importance, severity and incidence – but also to anticipate emerging pests or diseases to address future problems proactively.

During the 2020/2021 season, surveys were conducted throughout the North West, Free State, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal by researchers from the ARC, NWU and UP. Soilborne diseases and nematodes were collected and final analyses are in progress.

The diagnostic clinic established at UP added pest and disease extension services to its offering. During the 2020/2021 season, a total of 19 810 km was travelled across the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Free State, North West, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal and 2 674 samples were collected. Main diseases detected to date are shown in Table 1.

Sclerotinia diseases
Sclerotinia is currently one of the greatest challenges faced by soybean and sunflower producers. This is because management of the disease is incredibly difficult, and resting structures (sclerotia) can survive in the soil for up to twelve years. The Grain SA Research and Policy Centre team is addressing Sclerotinia disease management as a matter of urgency. Current research focus areas include understanding disease development, screening soybean cultivars for tolerance to the disease and investigating soil factors that promote survival in soil.

Platforms for needs-driven research
In research, collaboration is key to achieving goals as it allows access to a greater pool of expertise, delivers more value for funding spent and enables cost-sharing between complementary initiatives. In this regard, Grain SA played a central role in establishing the Grain Research Programme (GRP), which is envisioned to become the vehicle for industry-academia-government partnerships to conduct industry-driven research. At the moment UP and UFS are academic partners of the GRP, but the programme will expand in due time to other universities.

A second platform that Grain SA is part of establishing, is a biosecurity hub. South Africa urgently needs to increase its capacity to deal with quarantine pests and diseases to effectively meet the national and international obligations in terms of adherence to surveillance of plant pests and diseases, implementing contingency measures and being prepared for rapid response to pest and disease outbreaks. Grain SA is currently one of the partners involved in establishing a multi-industry, multi-stakeholder partnership between government, industry and academia. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development is mandated to ensure the biosecurity status of South Africa and guides the initiative.

Information and instructions on making use of the diagnostic clinic can be obtained by clicking on the QR code.

Contact Dr Miekie Human (miekie@grainsa.co.za) for more information on extension services.

Funders
Department of Science and Innovation
Technology Innovation Agency
Grain SA
Oil and Protein Seeds
Development Trust

Research partners
University of Pretoria (UP)
University of the Free State (UFS)
Agricultural Research Council (ARC)
North-West University (NWU)