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Sentinels on guard for disease management

RD&A News | December 2022
16 Dec 2022
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A recent trial of a disease monitoring sentinel system has shown it can reliably report weather data and associated airborne pathogen dispersal patterns at its test site.

It’s hoped the system can help viticulturists and vineyard managers better understand how to manage fungal diseases on their properties in the future.

The sentinels are part of a broader project, iMapPESTS, which has been testing a variety of automated pest and disease monitoring prototypes in multiple cropping sites across Australia. Several major agricultural sectors are invested in the project, including Wine Australia.

The iMapPESTS project ran a sentinel trial at a Wynn’s vineyard in the Coonawarra over the last winter. The trial focused on understanding the dispersal of Eutypa dieback spore with the prospect of developing a predictive toolkit that can help growers minimise the spread of the disease when pruning.

The sentinel platform automatically collected air samples daily, using a mechatronically controlled carousel within the main body of the unit, as well as corresponding weather data.

The samples were collected by Wynn’s and sent to South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) for identification of the pathogens by the molecular diagnostics centre. 

“Those results were aligned to data reported by the sentinel and visualised fortnightly on the iMapPESTS trial data dashboard,” explained Dr Rohan Kimber, SARDI Research Scientist. 

The main trial ran between March and October, 2022. A second phase of the trial began last month to monitor spring pathogens and pest dynamics. 

Dr Kimber said the trial was initiated to demonstrate the new technology and its capacity to report airborne pest and pathogens to end users, as a proof of concept initiative.

“We wanted to demonstrate that it could provide accurate information that could then inform decisions on the management of these threats to production or quality.”

Dr Kimber said the winter trial recorded very high peaks of two pathogens, powdery mildew and botrytis bunch rot, in the early stages of the monitoring period – which aligned to harvest activities within the district.  These pathogens were then mostly dormant in the subsequent winter months.

“There were also multiple dispersal events of airborne spores associated with Eutypa dieback detected from August to October. These peaks were driven by rain events, of which this season delivered many.”

The monitoring using molecular analysis also showed one particularly dominant pathogen, Cryptovalsa ampelina, within the Eutypa dieback complex of pathogens. This supported preliminary findings and projections by Dr Mark Sosnowski from SARDI, who is investigating this further in other projects supported by Wine Australia.

Dr Kimber said the ability to accurately detect and report localised dispersal patterns of pathogens affecting vineyard health and production is a new and exciting data stream in managing disease. 

“Linking outputs to weather data is the next step in mapping seasonal variances and the building blocks of predictive tools that forecast high risk settings. 

“The sentinel demonstrated how multiple pathogens, and pests, can be monitored by a single system. Importantly the system could also be used to monitor for biosecurity concerns to declare areas free for trade access.”

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.