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Ongoing project

Improving avocado orchard productivity through disease management (AV16007)

Key research provider: The University of Queensland

What’s it all about?

Beginning December 2017, this investment is identifying strategies to minimise the effects of key diseases in avocado orchards and in fruit as it progresses through the supply chain – helping the avocado industry increase orchard productivity and fruit quality.

The project has a focus on diseases and issues including…

  • Phytophthora root rot
  • Phellinus brown root rot
  • Nectriaceous black root rot
  • Stem end rot
  • Branch and graft dieback.

The dedicated Phytophthora component involves the work of a Murdoch University team, whose work includes a closer look at phosphite treatments, including the issue of residues, potential for Phytophthora pathogens to develop tolerance, alternatives and more.

The project’s work links in with other Hort Innovation Avocado Fund investments including Avocado industry biosecurity capacity building (AV16010).

The researchers report progress in the following areas…

Phosphonate treatments and residue monitoring

Levels of phosphonate residue in fruit have been measured using fruit from 40 blocks (35 Hass and 5 Shepard) across Australia. None of the fruit exceeded the temporary maximum residue limit for fruit marketed in Australia. Most samples had residues between 20 and 100 mg/kg, with three samples having less than 20 mg and five blocks with over 150 mg.

The data indicates that for some blocks, applications of phosphonate may be occurring too early. This can result in more phosphonate accumulation in fruit and less in roots than is desirable. It also suggests that summer applications may contribute to residues when fruit are in the strong development phase.

Pre-plant treatment trials

Initial results are available from the field trials testing pre-plant biofumigants (Caliente, BQ Mulch, plus chicken manure) in a commercial avocado orchard with high natural Phytophthora cinnamomi infestation. Plots were replanted with Hass on Reed nursery stock four weeks after incorporation and some plots were covered in black plastic.  Monthly tree health assessments showed no significant differences between biofumigants, but trees in the plots covered with black plastic were significantly healthier than those in the uncovered plots.  Soil samples collected immediately prior to replanting showed covered plots had significantly higher levels of many nutrients including nitrate, ammonium, manganese, sulphur, chloride, magnesium and potassium.

Project team members continue to respond to enquiries from growers, orchard managers, nursery operators, agronomists and extension specialists. Verticillium wilt was a significant problem for many growers in WA in summer 2019 so the researchers investigated. Verticillium dahliae was confirmed as the causal pathogen, and researchers provided advice for growers.

Testing P. cinnamomi for resistance to phosphite

The team at Murdoch University is working to confirm that some P cinnamomi isolates are becoming resistant to phosphite. Their trial involving 600 trees exposed to variants of the disease will yield results in a few months.

Other work

The team is developing a new way to determine phosphite concentrations in plant tissues, and is carrying out work to find out the concentrations of phosphite required in roots to protect them from infection and colonisation by P. cinnamomi.

650 avocado seeds (cv Reed) were sown in April 2019 to provide plants for future aspects of the research.

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As previously reported, there are a number of different activities and experiments currently being undertaken by this investment. The project team have provided the below update on their work…

Several different trials underway

A significant achievement to date has been the establishment of three field trials for assessing different mulches, soil amendments and other treatments on avocado tree health, fruit yields and quality. Two trials have been initiated in south west Western Australia and one trial at Childers, Queensland. All trees were rated for canopy health, and soil and leaf samples were taken for analyses to provide the start of treatment reference point for key physio-chemical and nutritional properties. The grower collaborators have had significant input into the selection of treatments for their orchards.

The treatments will be conducted over the next three cropping seasons. Effects of the treatments on soil properties, including microbial activity, tree canopy health and nutritional status, fruit yield and postharvest quality will be assessed annually.

Pre-plant treatment trials

A field trial in northern New South Wales is investigating the efficacy of brassica biofumigant crops or chicken manure as pre-plant treatments, at a site with a high natural infestation with Phytophthora cinnamomi. The brassica crop was macerated and thoroughly incorporated into the top 10cm of soil. Half the plots were covered in plastic. Hass trees grafted onto susceptible rootstock Reed were recently planted, and will be monitored over the coming months for establishment success and canopy health.

Phosphonate treatments and residue monitoring

Phosphonate injections or foliar sprays are a key component in orchard management for Phytophthora root rot. The application timing is critical to ensure maximum translocation to the roots, and minimal translocation to the developing fruit.  Monitoring concentrations in roots has been commonplace for several years, however measuring residues in fruit is not routinely undertaken. Agronomists, growers and the project leader have sampled fruit at commercial maturity from over 40 blocks from north Queensland around to south west Western Australia during 2018. Samples have been processed for dry matter determination and analysed by the commercial lab for phosphorous acid residues. Collaborators have provided corresponding results from root testing, and data analyses will be conducted over coming months.

Other work

The project team has also been conducting surveys for fungi involved in stem end rot in fruit, graft and branch dieback, to better understand and tackle the pathogens. Field trials into Phellinus brown root rot management have also begun.

Meanwhile, in the winter of 2018 a significant issue emerged for many growers in Western Australia, with trees snapping off at ground level and blowing over. The project team are involved in ongoing efforts to identify the likely cause or causes of the problem, and produced this basic tree blow-over handout with pictures and descriptions of symptoms, what was known at the time, and preliminary results from lab testings.

In its initial months, this investment has been working to establish a range of trial work, including a field investigation looking at the use of pre-plant biofumigation to tackle disease. For this work, an orchard has been selected where the trees were in severe decline due to Phytophthora root rot, and biofumigants of the brassica species are to be studied. The researchers note that brassica biofumigants are quick growing and frequently used in the vegetable industry to break nematode and soilborne disease cycles, and add organic matter to soil. In late May, sowing with two biofumigants took place (Caliente and BQ Mulch), after the trees were cleared from the trial area. Avocado seedlings or grafted plants are set to be sown into the plot, and will be assessed for mortality or other symptoms of Phytophthora decline in the ensuing months.

Planning is also underway for larger field trials to be conducted over the project’s course, assessing different amendments or treatments on tree health, yield and fruit quality. At the time of writing, it was anticipated that the first treatment applications to selected sites would likely occur during July and August this year.

Meanwhile, glasshouse trials have begun, looking at the suppression of Nectriaceae fungi post-infection using a range of fungicides. These trials will assess effects on plant and root growth and root necrosis after inoculation with Calonectria ilicicola and Dactylonectria macrodidyma, and subsequent fungicide drench.

Finally, in relation to phosphite treatments for Phytophthora, the researchers have been looking at fruit at commercial maturity for phosphorous acid residues – with a number of growers submitting fruit for assessment. Initial results on residues are to be reported back to participating growers, and more widely to industry, so that a clear picture of optimal time for application of phosphonate sprays and injections can be determined.

In the Murdoch University component of the work, sampling is underway to look at phosphite tolerance in Phytophthora cinnamomi and more.

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Related levy funds
Details

This project is a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Avocado Fund