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City kids thanked for contribution to agriculture research

Media release

Mildew Mania links Perth and regional students to the wheatbelt 

A Katanning farmer and a Curtin University scientist have this week thanked Year 5 students of Parkwood Primary School for their help in the fight against powdery mildew, a barley disease costing Western Australian farmers up to $100 million in crop losses and fungicide control per year.

The students participated in the Citizen Science project Mildew Mania, conducted by Curtin University with the support of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), where students are shown how to “catch” powdery mildew on different varieties of barley, and send the samples to researchers at the Curtin and GRDC-funded Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) for further investigation.

CCDM director Professor Mark Gibberd said since the project’s establishment in 2011 more than 14,000 WA students from some 220 schools have been involved.

“Activities such as Mildew Mania provide an important link between school children and agriculture,” Professor Gibberd said.

“School children in cities such as Perth often have very limited exposure to agriculture and Mildew Mania opens their eyes to real world problems and solutions associated with modern food production.”

CCDM researcher Dr Nola D’Souza said the samples received played an important part in staying on top of powdery mildew, as students were asked to grow different varieties of barley and see if powdery mildew spores in their particular location infect individual varieties.

“We’ve received samples from all over WA, from as far as Esperance to Broome, which means we are getting a much better cross-section of what’s actually out there. Consequently we are able to keep better track of the disease and watch for the development of new pathotypes, as well as ensuring resistant barley varieties retain their resistance,” Dr D’Souza said.

“Where the testing regime confirms a break down on plant resistance to powdery mildew, CCDM and GRDC will actively disseminate information to growers on which varieties are affected.”

Katanning farmer Mick Quartermaine and Dr D’Souza recently presented the Year 5 students of Parkwood Primary School with certificates, and thanked them for their contribution to Mildew Mania.

Mr Quartermaine said crop disease research like this is crucial to a lot of farming businesses, as variety selection was important for producing higher yields.

“Managing disease in a farming system can be very challenging and unpredictable, however knowing there are robust varieties that are resistant to disease can not only help us increase yields, but can also reduce our use of fungicides,” Mr Quartermaine said.

“It’s great to see my GRDC levy being used to help Curtin researchers develop new tools for breeding more resistant varieties, as well as improving the way we use fungicides. They are also exploring how they can better incorporate these into our farming system strategies and tactics.”

Mildew Mania is coordinated by science outreach officer Ms Gina Pearse, with support from Curtin’s Science Outreach team and the Department of Environment and Agriculture.

Mildew Mania will continue in 2016, and interested schools should contact Ms Pearse on 9266 7168 or gina.pearse@curtin.edu.au. For more information on Mildew Mania visit www.mildewmania.com.au.