[ASC-media] Media release: $150m boost to tropical farming

CRCA Media crcamedia at starclass.com.au
Mon Nov 14 20:56:49 EST 2005

CRCA Media Release 05/35

November 15, 2005


A powerful new scientific weapon against anthracnose - the soft brown rot that spoils avocadoes - is delivering $40 million in benefits to the nation's avocado industry, as well as higher quality fruit to consumers. 

The return on the avocado research is just a part of $150 million in benefits being delivered to the Australia's tropical farming industries from ten research projects, according to a new economic analysis.

In fact, every dollar spent on these tropical agriculture research projects returned eleven dollars in industry and wider benefits, says Professor John Irwin, Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Plant Protection.

The finding was made by economic research group Agtrans Research in a benefit-cost analysis of 10 CRC TPP research projects from 1992 to 2004.

"Bananas, avocados, sunflowers, cotton, lucerne, sugarcane, wheat - these are just some of an impressive list of crops where research has paid huge dividends," says Professor Irwin.

"Avocados are a prime example.  Researchers from the CRC have identified a powerful new weapon against anthracnose disease for the avocado industry and it is already delivering substantial benefits to growers and consumers.

"By using certain Guatemalan rootstocks for avocado tree graftings, growers can halve the incidence of anthracnose disease and enjoy an eighty per cent decrease in the severity of infection," he says.

 Professor Irwin says that the practical horticultural benefits of the study are based on sophisticated scientific research.

"Anthracnose is a fungal disease which affects tropical fruits such as avocados, mangoes and lychees, and results in significant loss of fruit in the marketplace," he says. "Our research has shown that resistance to the disease is associated with naturally occurring anti-fungal properties.

"We have also found a link between excessive nitrogen fertiliser use, low fruit calcium levels, and anthracnose severity," he says.

The avocado industry has adopted the CRC research outcomes and made major changes to its management practices. Virtually all 'Hass' avocados - the most common commercial cultivar - are now grown on Guatemalan rootstock, compared to less than half before the study.

The direct benefit to the avocado industry is estimated at over forty million dollars.

The CRC is also investigating the potential of the Guatemalan rootstock to resist another devastating disease of avocados, the root-destroying pathogen, Phytophthora.

Professor Irwin says that ten representative CRC research projects were analysed by Agtrans Research, with avocado disease resistance being one of the highly successful results shown by the survey.

"Avocados and new lucerne varieties were the two biggest, at over forty million dollars benefit each, but the total value of benefits for the ten investments is almost one hundred and fifty million dollars, at a cost of just over thirteen million dollars.

"This gives an aggregate benefit of CRC research of more than 11 to 1," says Professor Irwin. "It's clear that the overall program has and will deliver important outcomes to the whole tropical fruit, horticulture and agriculture sector."

Two diseases of bananas, black Sigatoka and tropical race 4 Panama, which entered Australia recently have also been identified, quarantined and eradicated, using sophisticated diagnostic tools developed by the CRC.

"These are typical of the diseases which occur in many of our neighbouring countries," says Professor Irwin. "They pose an immense risk to Australia's growers, and so it is vital that we identify and eradicate them as soon as they are detected." 

CRC for Tropical Plant Protection research supports Australia's National Research Priorities No.1, an Environmentally Sustainable Australia, No.3, Frontier Technologies for Building and Transforming Australian Industries, and No.4, Safeguarding Australia.

More information from:

Professor John Irwin, Chief Executive Officer, CRC for Tropical Plant Protection,
07 3365 2790

Sue McKell, CRC for Tropical Plant Protection, 07 3365 4776
Prof. Julian Cribb, CRCA Media,	0418 639 245

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