Weed control fungi are the new ally of Australian farmers

Farmers now have the weed control fungus, a new biocontrol tool to help combat one of Australia’s most challenging agricultural weeds, Conyza bonariensis, which causes more than $43 million in lost income each year.

Researchers at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, are pilot testing a release of the anti-weed fungus from Colombia to help farmers save their crops.

Conyza bonariensis is a fast-spreading South American weed that damages crops and pastures in Australia and affects the livelihoods of many farmers.

Anti-weed fungi can save millions of hectares of land

Dr Ben Gooden, a weed ecologist at CSIRO, said the plant has been one of the most difficult weeds to control in cereal farming systems and is estimated to affect nearly three million hectares of land in Australia.

“As Conyza bonariensis has developed resistance to some herbicides, we hope that the biological control agent will be effective in reducing its numbers across the country,” said Dr. Godin.

“We have identified a rust fungus called Puccinia cnici-oleracei in Colombia, which infects Conyza bonariensis and prevents it from growing by destroying plant tissues,” the expert says, citing Phys.org.

biological control agent

The weed control mushroom has been imported to CSIRO’s high-security quarantine facility in Canberra, where scientists have studied it extensively to determine if it can be safely introduced to Australia as a biological control agent.

“Our research found that the fungus could only infect Conyza bonariensis, while all non-target plants tested were resistant to it. Based on this research, the fungus is considered safe and approved by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for introduction into Australia,” Dr. Gooden said.

Highly resistant herb

The weeds reach a length of 1 meter and are a prolific producer of seeds. Each plant can produce more than 100,000 seeds and can be dispersed over long distances by wind, water, animals and automobiles, which explains its rapid spread not only in local areas but also in crop and pasture areas in the south and west in recent times.

The Grain Foundation and Research Development (GRDC) was one of the organizations that supported the research. Grain farmers have struggled with this weed for many years as plants compete for soil water at several stages of the crop cycle, said GRDC’s director of weeds, Dr. Jason Eames, which has had a direct impact on production.

Conyza bonariensis can propagate during the non-planting phase because there is little competition for light or moisture. Once it’s set up, Dr. Eames said, it’s very difficult to control.

“The biological control agent for this controversial weed is very exciting because it can help reduce the overall population when integrated with existing weed management strategies,” Ames continued.

The anti-weed mushroom will be released according to the strategy

Because release sites are strategically selected across the range of weeds, CSIRO, AgriFutures Australia and GRDC will provide rust fungi and clear guidance for land managers wishing to introduce them into areas of high infestation.

The landowners will monitor the fungus and how it is established and report to the CSIRO on its effect on the weeds.

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