Ginger industry biosecurity systems stem disease threat

25.03.20

The implementation of strict biosecurity protocols to combat a disease threat with potential to decimate the ginger industry has earned Templeton Farming Enterprises the 2020 Farm Biosecurity Producer of the Year Award.

Photo: Left to right – Award winner Shane Templeton; Hon. David Little Proud, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management; and Julie Templeton at the 2020 Australian Biosecurity Awards (Photo credit: Sharon Abrahams, Plant Health Australia).

Eumundi, Queensland ginger grower and Australian Ginger Industry Association (AGIA) president, Shane Templeton, Templeton Farming Enterprises was acknowledged at the ABARES Outlook Conference Dinner in March 2020.

Mr Templeton was honoured to receive the award and to raise awareness of a challenging disease. According to Mr Templeton some growers reported losses of one-third of yearly production in the early 2010s with Pythium myriotylum spreading at a rate of 10 square metres a day.

Mr Templeton said the industry’s biosecurity efforts – based on non-chemical voluntary quarantine of infected fields and farms – needed a ‘one-in-all-in’ industry approach.

“It took seven years to gain the knowledge and information we needed to tackle the issue and anyone who didn’t adopt the biosecurity measures is not in the ginger business anymore,” he said.

“We grabbed any information we could from Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland (DAF) and research funded by AgriFutures Australia.

“Spore counts seemed to keep increasing and the industry couldn’t survive by adopting biosecurity to a small degree, we had to go to the enth degree to head this thing off.”

Shane’s sister Kylie Templeton, also a third-generation ginger grower and part of Australia’s largest ginger operation, Templeton Ginger, reached out to growers in Japan where Pythium had been a problem and the research yielded good advice.

“One of the valuable things the Japanese growers said is ‘you will never eradicate it, you will have to learn to manage it’,” said Mr Templeton.

“Japanese growers went through a Pythium outbreak in the 1950s, so they look for it on a daily basis.

“Their paddocks aren’t as big as ours but if they see it, they remove it and cover it with plastic, isolating it so it doesn’t spread.”

This strategy formed the frontline of the battle to stop the disease’s spread and on the Templeton farms staff swung into action to spot any outbreaks.

Funded by AgriFutures Australia, DAF scientists were able to identify the strain and advise the industry that it was spread through water and soil movement.

Now retired DAF researcher Dr Mike Smith studied Pythium Soft Rot in ginger. Pythium Soft Rot is regarded as one of the most destructive diseases of ginger worldwide and disease epidemics caused by Pythium myriotylum were first recorded in Australia during the wet summer of 2007/08, which had more rain days than any other summer on record. During the 2011/12 season it was estimated 1500 tonnes were lost due to Pythium Soft Rot.

Early AgriFutures Australia-funded research examined containment and control solutions, while research in 2012-13 further investigated factors contributing to persistence and spread.

AgriFutures Australia Manager, Research Lucinda Staley said the DAF research was instrumental in helping the ginger industry identify and manage the outbreak.

“The research showed Pythium Soft Rot was spread by soil, water and seed so designing and implementing on-farm biosecurity systems and procedures is key to stopping its spread and effectively saving the Australian ginger industry,” said Ms Staley.

“This project has been a great example of AgriFutures Australia working with researchers and industry for an effective outcome for our rural industries.”

Mr Templeton agrees: “Every year was another bit of learning and one of the first things we found was that it moves with water if you received a big rainfall event, so drainage was very important.

“Then we found it wasn’t just water but soil movement, so if you walked or took a tractor and plough through a patch of Pythium you would pass on more spores.”

Being water-borne the disease also spread via seed treatment, further foiling efforts to contain it.

Rotation with non-root crops has proved valuable, giving growers another non-chemical tool for control. The Templetons now grow ginger every five years in rotation with pasture – taking a big hit in production terms.

“At one stage it looked like we couldn’t grow in old ginger ground at all and we purchased new ground for clean seed production via tissue culture,” Mr Templeton said.

The industry’s biosecurity now includes cleaning boots and vehicles and ensuring contractor’s machinery isn’t spreading spores.

For the ginger supply chain and customers, the growers’ dedication to biosecurity is protecting the industry not only from destructive Pythium but other disease threats.

Media Enquiries:

Lauren Sharkey, AgriFutures Australia, Manager, Communications & Capacity Building

Lauren.Sharkey@agrifutures.com.au | 02 6923 6916 | 0409 966 182