AgriFutures Ginger Program researcher spotlight: Sharon Hamill

27.07.20

Funded by AgriFutures Ginger Program Sharon Hamill, a Senior Principal Scientist from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, based in Nambour, QLD has developed a new commercial clean planting material method using tissue culture.

Early in Australian ginger production history a soil born fungus that attacks and kills the ginger plant was unknowingly introduced in an infected rhizome Because growers use and share their own rhizome to replant as well as sell to market, this disease is now widespread across the industry. If unmanaged, it can cause significant ongoing losses for growers and the industry more broadly.

Funded by AgriFutures Ginger Program Sharon Hamill, a Senior Principal Scientist from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, based in Nambour, QLD has developed a new commercial clean planting material method using tissue culture. For the first time, Australian growers now have access to affordable and commercial volumes of pest and disease free ginger planting material. The new method provides growers with a way to establish disease free farms to improve yield, product quality and improved biosecurity practices.

Why is this research project important?

Fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. zingiberi) that specifically attacks ginger is a devastating and persistent soil fungal pathogen. This pathogen is a major constraint to ginger production and once in the soil will remain for decades. At present, there are no resistant cultivars and even though growers fallow and rotate blocks to reduce the level of inoculum, they suffer substantial losses due to disease in soil and from infected rhizome. Accessing clean ginger planting material has been sought by growers for a long time. This material can be used to establish pathogen free mother blocks as a source of clean rhizome and to establish clean farms that had not previously grown ginger. Fusarium wilt is one of the biggest obstacles to ginger production, affecting both yield and quality.

Why did you get involved in the project?

I have been supporting the ginger industry for decades to improve cultivars, in disease management and researching ginger tissue culture and have recognised expertise for improvement of subtropical and tropical horticultural crops. While conventional ginger tissue culture production produces disease free plants the method was too slow and too costly for commercialisation. I developed a new concept that has dramatically improved production of clean planting material and is commercially viable. This research allowed the concept to develop to commercial production.

How will this research benefit the ginger industry? Are there any learnings beyond the ginger industry?

The Australian ginger industry have now adopted the outcomes and recommendations of this work. The industry have access to cost effective commercial quantities of pest and disease free planting material and growers are improving their on farm biosecurity by setting up clean mother blocks to produce their own clean planting material. Keeping growers informed about the research and our progress was also fundamental to the adoption of this work. Ongoing communication improved grower awareness and allowed early access in trials to provide feedback that was used to improve the commercial product.

Widespread adoption by a majority of growers across the industry has been critical to make access to clean planting material a commercially viable program. In addition, clean planting material has led to more reliable yield with increased quality to improve the supply chain and to support other sectors such as processors.

This work and other studies show that high quality, disease free planting material and associated improvements in farm biosecurity practices are keys to farm resilience and relevant to many industries. A main point is that, the solution must be developed to suit the industry practices.

What’s the best piece of professional/career advice you’ve ever been given?

Listen and learn from growers. Growers are the ones that work most closely with the crop and they often make astute observations. Find and understand the true issue and not the perceived problem. Always be honest, only promise what you think you can deliver, under promise and over deliver is a big motto for me. Communicate in clear and simple language. Ask questions, there is a lot to learn every day and the more you know, the more you realize how much more there is to learn.

What have you learned about your industry from the growers/producers you have been involved with?

The ginger industry growers want to move forward and are open to new ideas that aim to improve their industry. For large changes to make an impact the majority of growers work together to adopt or at least trial new practices. Like growers in other industries ginger growers are a tight knit family.