Leading weeds initiative focus of Panel visit

image of GRDC Western Region Panel members
GRDC Western Region Panel members listen to AHRI researcher Mechelle Owen about results from a survey of WA cropping paddocks. Photo by GRDC.

Weeds and herbicide resistance, which cost Australian grain growers $3.3 billion each year, continue to be a major area for investment by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

A significant focus for this investment is the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) at The University of Western Australia (UWA), which is recognised internationally for its leading and innovative work into herbicide resistance and its management in cropping systems.

GRDC Western Region Panel members recently visited UWA to observe AHRI’s facilities and to hear from leading researchers, including recently appointed director Hugh Beckie, a prominent international weed scientist.

Panel chair Darrin Lee said it was important for Panel members to clearly understand the scope of GRDC’s key investments to assist them in their role of helping to develop and prioritise the GRDC’s research, development and extension (RD&E) investment portfolio.

“AHRI is highly regarded worldwide, as well as nationally, for its valuable research and the excellent information it delivers, and this is reflected in the GRDC’s long history of investment in and support for its work,” Mr Lee said.

“In 2018 alone, the GRDC invested $1.7 million in AHRI, in addition to $1 million in a new crop and weed agronomy laboratory at UWA that is used by AHRI researchers, and continues to be the major investor in the organisation.”

Dr Beckie comes to his new role at AHRI from the Saskatoon Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, taking over from the highly respected Steve Powles, who spent two decades in the position.

image of AHRI researchers explaining work
GRDC Western Region Panel members listen to AHRI researchers explaining work being conducted in a recently opened crop and weed agronomy laboratory, built following a $1 million GRDC Grains Research and Development (R&D) Infrastructure Grant, with a co-contribution of $160,000 from UWA. Photo by GRDC.

Dr Beckie told the Panel that AHRI continued to focus on crop and weed science, and herbicide resistance in the Australian grains industry, and in the first months of his new role he was consulting widely and ‘doing a lot of listening’.

“Going forward I expect that AHRI will increase its focus on integrated weed management and agronomy, with the aim of helping growers better utilise existing weed management tools,” he said.

“Communication and extension is also a major component of AHRI’s budget and I expect this to continue.

“In the future I am keen to increase AHRI’s linkages with industry and other collaborators, so as to get the best possible outcomes for growers.”

Dr Beckie said a new initiative was a strategic partnership between UWA, AHRI and Colorado State University, an important alliance given both parties had complementary weed science expertise and carried out research for growers facing similar cropping challenges.

During the visit to AHRI, Panel members inspected facilities including the recently opened crop and weed agronomy laboratory, built following a GRDC Grains Research and Development (R&D) Infrastructure Grant, with a co-contribution of $160,000 from UWA.

The laboratory expands weed research capacity and agronomic research facilities for the university and AHRI.

Panel members listened to leading AHRI researchers, who spoke about key areas of the organisation’s work, including weed surveys and analysis; herbicide resistance biochemistry; new weed agronomy projects; resistance evolution and herbicide technology; and AHRI communication and extension activities.

AHRI centre manager Lisa Mayer also leads WeedSmart and she spoke about this national, industry-led initiative which involves key stakeholders, including the GRDC, working together to promote the sustainable use of herbicides by delivering weed control solutions for growers and agronomists.

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