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Broadacre Cropping Initiative (BACI)

A research partnership between the University of Southern Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.


In December 2014, the University and the Department entered into a broadacre grains RD&E partnership to build synergies, critical mass and research capacity to enhance the delivery to Queensland's cropping industries. The partnership focused on specific fields of wheat pathology, winter crop nematology, summer grain pathology, agricultural engineering and agricultural systems modelling.

Our vision is to provide strategic leadership to ensure Queensland Crop and Food Science RD&E is world class and positions Queensland broadacre cropping and food industries for the future. Our purpose is to enhance Queensland's broadacre cropping industry capability and capacity for sustainable broadacre crop industries.


Research themes and projects

Our research themes include Crop Health, Soil-Water Interactions, Agricultural Systems Modelling and Agricultural Technology.

The suite of BACI projects, funded by the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and UniSQ, aim to increase industry productivity, manage biosecurity risks associated with exports and trade whilst ensuring environmental sustainability. Research undertaken throughout the BACI partnership result in significant direct industry impact along with building new capacity and capabilities to assist the Queensland broadacre cropping industries.


The BACI Research Showcase is an opportunity to highlight the Broadacre Cropping Initiative (BACI); a partnership between UniSQ and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland that delivers applied and practical solutions to the Queensland broadacre industry.

BACI Research Showcase 2023

The second BACI Research Showcase was held on 26 October 2023.

The showcase attracted agricultural colleagues from senior government, research development corporations, industry, growers, PhD students and the university staff. Across the day, speakers showcased research activities, a panel discussion and poster presentation session. The theme of the day 'Impact through Industry Collaboration' came through strongly throughout the day, with research showcased from BACI researchers at UniSQ and DAF Queensland.

Attendees had a great opportunity to network with one another and engage with researchers, especially with the new addition of the poster presentation session, which was a hit! Short, sharp and impactful posters were presented clearly to the audience with much enthusiasm. Great feedback has been received and we look forward to the next showcase in 2025.

Watch the recordings from the BACI 2023 Research Showcase >> UniSQ ILSE YouTube Channel



BACI team
Back row (L - R): Professor Gavin Ash, Dr David Lawrence, Mr Michael Widderick, Mr Mark Hickman, Dr Rex Williams, Ms Liz Neary
Front row (L - R): Ms Kirsten Vonhoff, Ms Meagan McKenzie, Professor Robbie Girling, Mr David Duperouzel and Dr Angela Mordocco


BACI Research Showcase 2021

In 2021, the Inaugural BACI Research Showcase highlighted the research and activities undertaken as part of the Department's significant investment since the start of the partnership in 2014. Over 80 people attended the event with presentations focusing on a wide variety of issues, from fungicide resistance in major broadacre crop pathogens in Queensland to using machine vision technology to aid on-farm irrigation, nutrient, and crop management decisions.

Watch the recordings from the BACI 2021 Research Showcase >>UniSQ ILSE YouTube Channel


L - R:Professor Levente Kiss, Mr Chris Downs, DAF and Professor Gavin Ash

Macrophomina phaseolina causes charcoal rot on a wide range of broadacre crops, including sorghum, sunflower, soybean, mungbean, chickpea and lupins. Due to the hotter and drier conditions and more frequent droughts in Australia, charcoal rot is emerging more frequently, causing more severe epidemics. Sustainable charcoal rot management is only possible if we have a good understanding of its epidemiology within the multiple crops & cropping systems where the disease occurs.

This project will deliver insights into charcoal rot epidemiology, which will be useful to promote sustainable disease management. This project will:

  1. result in a better understanding of the epidemiology of charcoal rot on important crops (chickpea, mungbean, soybean) in Queensland, and an enhanced knowledge of its host association; and

  2. enable Queensland grain growers to make better-informed rotation decisions to manage the risk in a future crop.

Key outputs will include:

  • Generation of new knowledge on the genetic and genotypic variability and structure of M. phaseolina on  important broadacre crops that are severely affected by charcoal rot, including chickpea, mungbean and soybean; and

  • identification of major genomic loci underlying the pathogen's local adaptation and potential host-association in Australia.

In Queensland, crop production is limited by water that makes crops rely on soil water supply with a high dependency e.g. 82% at Emerald at planting time. It is likely that by changes in climate and drought this dependency and importance of soil moisture management become even more vital for production and profitability of cropping systems in Queensland. Drought in agriculture is deficiencies of water available to the crop, thus, the result of this research will have a direct benefit to drought management. Timely sowing improves production and helps growers to make a decision on crop choice depending on water availability in their paddock. Improved knowledge of soil moisture conservation by managing cover crops will maximise the benefit against conserving soil moisture for subsequent crops in rotation systems.

By using the knowledge developed via this research, growers will be well informed to control their weed or crops during fallows or non-crop phases for greater soil moisture storage and subsequent profit. Overall, better nowcasting and forecast of soil moisture, in particular plant available water (AW), will result in a more effective design of the farming system to increase water use efficiency.

This project aims to inform tan spot management and mungbean breeding for tan spot resistance through:

  1. improving the knowledge of the biology and epidemiology of Curto-bacterium flaccumfaciens pv. flaccumfaciens (Cff) populations in the northern regiuion

  2. Understanding the mechanisms underlying host adaptation in Cff populations

The impacts of this project include:

  1. Providing growers with better-informed management options based on an improved knowledge of the biology, survival and host range of the pathogen

  2. Inform mungbean breeders on the aggressiveness and comparative fitness of Cff clonal lineages for implementation in breeding programs.

  3. Delivery of improved methodologies for selection of tan spot resistant mungbean material

  4. Assess durability of tan spot resistance through understanding the adaptive evolution of Cff populations in response to resistant mungbean varieties.

This project is built on the existing good collaboration between UniSQ and the Queensland Department of Agriculture & Fisheries (DAF) in mungbean research. It is an investment in new knowledge and development of research capacity, with expected outcomes to support mungbean breeding for disease resistance through:

  1. Discovering novel sources of resistance to powdery mildew and tan spot;
  2. Promoting marker-assisted breeding for more efficient introgression of disease resistance into elite mungbean varieties.

This project will contribute to breeding new varieties of mungbean with resistance to powdery mildew and tan spot through:

  1. Screening the Australian Mungbean Diversity Panel and the World Vegetable Centre mini-core mungbean collections (in India and Taiwan) for resistance to powdery mildew and tan spot
  2. Understanding the genetic basis of resistance to powdery mildew and tan spot
  3. Integrating mungbean breeding resources and capacities in Australia, India and Taiwan.

The main aim, i.e. breeding disease-resistant mungbean varieties, will be achieved by building on two discoveries made at UniSQ's Centre for Crop health:

  • the discovery of the clonal diversity of the tan spot pathogen in Queensland; and
  • the precise identification of two fungal species that cause powdery mildew infections of mungbean in Queensland.

This project will invest in new knowledge of resistance QTL/genes to the root-lesion nematode Pratylenchus thornei, available in mungbean, a major summer crop in Queensland. Identification of sources of resistance and availability of user-friendly molecular markers will accelerate breeding for P. thornei resistance in mungbean, leading to increased productivity & profitability to Queensland growers. Benefits of growing root-lesion nematode resistant mungbean will extend to whole farming systems by reducing the residual P. thornei populations that remain in the soil after susceptible crops. Furthermore, this project will develop research career pathways and research capacity in Queensland.

This project aims to:

  1. identify novel sources of resistance to Pratylenchus thornei in the mungbean mini-core collection;
  2. identify QTL & molecular markers linked ti P. thornei resistance using genome-wide association mapping (GWAS);

  3. provide a conversion of tightly linked SNP markers into KASP markers, readily usable by breeders in marker-assisted selection programs to incorporate resistance to P. thornei into commercial varieties;

  4. develop qPCR and loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP assay as molecular tools to access breeding lines for resistance to P. thornei.

The aim of this project is to perform high-resolution (high-res) mapping of Pyrenophora teres f. teres virulence genes to gain a better understanding of the host/fungal interaction and help expedite the development of net form net blotch (NFNB) resistant barley varieties available to Queensland growers.

Net form net blotch, caused by Pyrenophora teres f. teres, is one of the main barley foliar diseases in Queensland. Varieties resistant to this disease are currently not available to Queensland growers. To help seek up the production of NFNB resistant barley varieties, a better understanding of the complex interaction between the host and the fungus is needed.

In Queensland, three distinct Pyrenophora teres f. teres isolate groups have been identified. through a genome-wide association mapping study and QTL analysis of bi-parential P. teres f. teres populations we have identified genomic regions significantly associated with virulence to these genotypes. The genomic regions containing the virulence genes are, however large, thus making it difficultu to pinpoint the gene(s) involved. Thus we are proposing a high resolution mapping approach to enable us to identify the candidate genes.

This project is a stepping stone to leverage further funding opportunities to quickly incorporate the knowledge gained into the production of new NFNB resistant varieties.

For decades, fungicides have been at the forefront of control of fungal crop pathogens. However, the overreliance on the chemical control strategies, and in particular on the use of only a small number of compounds that have a single mode of action, such as DMIs and QoIs, has led to the development of fungicide resistance in Australian fields.

So far seven cases of fungicide resistance and four cases of reduced sensitivity (resistance that does not reach the level of field failure) have been found in Australia.

Until recently, a national project to detect & manage fungicide resistance issues in broadacre & other crop pathogens has been managed from Western Australia. In an attempt to detect new occurrences of fungicide resistance & develop methodologies for that detection in Queensland, this project will investigate potential cases on fungicide in broadacre crop pathogens based on information received from the industry.

The specific aims of the project are:

  1. Establish the framework and laboratory background for the detection of DNA markers associated with fungicide resistance, focusing on DMI and QoI fungicide resistance markers.
  2. Establish the framework and laboratory background for biotests that would detect fungicide resistance in culturable and non-culturable (obligate bio-trophic) pathogens of broadacre crops in Queensland.
  3. Investigate perceived cases of fungicide resistance in broadacre crop pathogens in Queensland based on information received from the industry.
  4. Monitor baseline fungicide sensitivity levels in selected populations of broadacre crop pathogens in Queensland.

This project will have a significant impact on the development of fungicide resistance management practices in Queensland that are essential to prolong the efficacy of new and existing fungicides and is an investment in new knowledge and development of research capacity.

Broadacre cropping is one of Queensland’s most valuable agricultural sectors. The potential benefit of digital technologies to the Australian farming sector has been estimated at over $20 Bn with over $7.0 Bn associated with cropping industries. This project will scope and develop machine vision-based sensors for automated analysis of cropping parameters that directly assist with agronomic decision-making to enable crop assessments that do not require intensive in-field calibrations (e.g. NDVI). Improvements in crop yields through targeted and spatial management of farming inputs vary but have been reported to include planting (13%), spraying (4%), fertilising (18%) & irrigation (10% - 30%). Farm productivity associated with the top 20% of farming enterprises provides an indication of the potential benefits through technology adoption. Data reported by ABARES on farm productivity for the top 20% of farms indicates agricultural output would increase by 18% and farm income would increase by 24%. ABARES reports that farm profitability associated with larger farming operations is an artefact of technology adoption as opposed to scales of economy. Conservatively and within Queensland, the impact of better, timelier and spatially aware agronomic decisions based on the technologies developed in this project has the potential to improve farm profitability by $100m.

In-season monitoring of broadacre crop growth and condition is required to aid on-farm management decisions. Agronomists typically conduct manual crop scouting to assess crop vigour, growth rates, irrigation and fertiliser stress and maturity. However, measurement at a large scale or at remote sites is often labour-intensive. Existing automated crop assessment systems are limited to NDVI and hyperspectral sensing which are indirect measures and require intensive in-field calibration for interpretation.

This project aims to:

  1. Undertake a “market” assessment to identify particular automated crop monitoring use cases (i.e. machine vision based) and their value proposition to broad acre cropping;
  2. Recommend prioritised machine vision-based use cases, required technology developments and critical monitoring elements, their agronomic significance to improving crop management decisions and
  3. Undertake “white space” technology development of machine vision plant sensing technology that can autonomously capture and implement image analysis algorithms for at least 1 selected use case.

Crown Rot and Common Root Rot (CRR) are the two most important root and crown fungal diseases of winter cereals in Queensland. Losses were estimated in the northern region in 2009 at $8 million for barley and $45 million for wheat, with approximately 30-59% incidence of these diseases occurring across this region.

The incidence of CRR, caused by the fungus Bipolaris sorokiniana, has risen across South East Queensland. A pathogen survey of a random selection of paddocks across the northern grain’s region detected B. sorokiniana in the roots of plants in 100% of South East Queensland paddocks in 2018 and 90% in 2019. Furthermore, over half of these paddocks tested in 2018 had both Crown Rot and CRR pathogens in plant material (data provided by Steven Simpfendorfer).

The corresponding impact on yield, and the cause of increased distribution in Queensland, is unknown due to the limited availability of yield loss data for CRR and a lack of understanding of the aggressiveness and pathogenicity of B. sorokiniana isolates. Availability of CRR resistant varieties in Queensland has decreased in the last 5 years, from 30% to 0% for bread wheat, and from 100% to less than 50% for durum wheat. Only one barley variety currently available to Queensland growers has moderate resistance to CRR.

Benefits to Queensland growers of determining the impact of CRR disease in winter cereal yield loss trials are the quantification of yield losses caused by this disease, improved future breeding strategies for CRR resistant/tolerant varieties, and the development of integrated disease management strategies to prevent losses due to this disease. Current detection of CRR disease is difficult, time consuming and laborious. Plants must be removed from the field and the roots and crown tissues visually assessed. CRR symptoms are very difficult to differentiate from Crown Rot symptoms and accurate discrimination requires pathogen isolation in the laboratory or DNA detection.

A recently completed study at UniSQ demonstrated pre-visual detection of Crown Rot with accuracy of 78% to 100% using near infrared sensing and machine learning. Developing a non-destructive spectral sensing system that can detect CRR in the field, and potentially discriminate from Crown Rot, will be invaluable to understanding the distribution, impact and subsequent spread of both the Crown Rot and CRR pathogens in Queensland grain growers’ paddocks.

This project will provide the Queensland grain industry with a clear understanding of the relationship between resistance scores and yield penalty due to Bipolaris sorokiniana infection in wheat and barley cultivars. It will investigate variation in the aggressiveness and pathogenicity of B. sorokiniana isolates and develop a sensing system to detect Common Root Rot disease in bread wheat under glasshouse and field conditions.

This project will determine whether the spectral signature for CRR disease is different from the spectral signature for the visually similar Crown Rot disease, as a poof-of-concept tool for intended use by growers on-farm.

The main aim of this project is to increase yield in Queensland cropping systems through enhanced management of soil organic materials and better exploitation of cover cropping to amend soil-water-plant relationships. This project will quantify variations in soil water i.e. infiltration, storage and crop-water relationships by short and long-term changes in soil carbon and biological activities and their impact on yield, such as:

  • Clarify the effect of short term (Liable C) and long-term variation of soil carbon (total OC) on productivity and soil hydrology.
  • Quantify the effect of improvements of soil biology on infiltration rate and plant-soil-water relationships in different soils e.g. those with constraints.
  • Improvements in the soil through enhanced soil C and changes in soil biology e.g. enhanced mycorrhizal symbiosis and microbial activities on soil physical properties which can affect soil hydrological parameters and structural ability.
  • System analysis will be conducted by including economic analysis to evaluate profitability of improvements in soil C and biology.
  • Recommending management practices that leverage soil improvements for greater water availability and water use efficiency.

Further to previous work on the agronomy of managing cropping systems, e.g. cover cropping, this project will focus on quantifying the soil properties interactions with water and their implications into the whole cropping/farming system. the project will identify the mechanisms behind the changes, the effectiveness of their impacts at the system level, trade-offs within the plant-soil-water-microbe complex and implications for system designs. Improving soil productivity via delivering better management of soil C and moisture realises a new yield gap and creates an opportunity to increase the yield by filling this gap.

Recently a strong and on-going demand for sesame has emerged with the introduction of new high-yielding, non-dehiscing varieties with better quality and adaptation to Australian conditions, that can be mechanically harvested. In addition, the increased demand is driven by the variety of uses for sesame, including its recognition as a healthy ‘superfood’.

In December 2018, a report was completed for the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries entitled “Sesame – the $250m diversification opportunity in North West Queensland” (Coriolis, 2018). In addition, the recent AgriFutures Australia produced report titled “Australian Sesame Strategic RD&E Plan (2021 – 2026)”, has been developed in close consultation with a key group of industry stakeholders, forming the basis of the Sesame Stakeholders Group (SSG) and the formation of the Australian Sesame Industry Development Association (ASIDA) in 2021. In that report, current research was identified, including the research undertaken by UniSQ with Savannah Sun Foods (Soil-borne pathogens of sesame) and the Root diseases of sesame project, supported by the BACI investment. Both reports indicate a strong and increasing demand for sesame, placing the Queensland broadacre industry in a strong position to take advantage of this increased opportunity. Sesame is a drought and heat tolerant crop that can be grown across several soil types; the primary target production regions including NNSW, Southern and Central Queensland as well as north and far north Queensland. The report identified specific recommendations for future investment to support the long-term growth and competitive advantage of the Australian sesame industry.

This project supports the overall aim of addressing key agronomic production challenges to deliver a domestic and export sesame industry worth over $10 million within the next five years, replacing imports and generating exports to Asia and the Middle East, bringing new opportunities for Queensland growers. Growers will be provided with knowledge to implement the best management practices to optimise productivity, profitability and yield, including the impacts of biotic stress, and options for including sesame into farming systems.

To support the increased growing opportunity, a decision support tool will be developed to support decision making in identifying its optimum planting date for the effective introduction of the crop in existing crop rotation as a viable/preferred/advantageous option for adaptation to the high variable climatic conditions in the region. It will support the adoption and management of the crop, foresight on its potential and the conditions for optimum establishment of the crop for maximum yield and profitability.

With the targeted adoption of sesame crops in drought prone farming systems in Queensland, farmers’ vulnerability to drought and climate variability is expected to be reduced, leading to more vibrant and dynamic rural communities.

This project aims to:

  • Identify current known and potential disease threats, their biology, ecology and management;
  • Identify and review current known and potential exotic disease threats, their biology, ecology and management, including potential risk mitigation strategies;
  • Provide the Queensland sesame industry with a clear understanding of the disease threats and how to mitigate and manage those risks;
  • Develop and deliver a disease management guide with current knowledge of best management practices for priority diseases;
  • Identify RD&E gaps that leads to the evaluation and development of new response strategies and/or Integrated Disease Management (IDM) strategies;
  • Develop a sesame crop model as a decision support tool for the introduction of sesame as a rotational crop in existing broadacre cropping and 
    to assist the Queensland broadacre industry on the adoption and management of the crop.

Mungbean is a valuable summer crop for Queensland grain growers, with $100M gross value of production to the State. Halo blight is a seedborne bacterial disease and the most destructive foliar pathogen of mungbean in > 50% of the production area. Yield losses of up to 70% due to halo blight have been reported in mungbean crops. There are no in-crop control measures, and genetic resistance is recognised as the cornerstone in protection from this disease. However, breeding for effective and durable resistance requires a thorough understanding of the genetic and pathogenic variability of the pathogen in Queensland, which is currently lacking.

Following the significant contributions of the currently BACI funded project “Genomics empowered research to support mungbean breeding for tan spot resistance”, this project is designed to support breeding for halo blight resistance. DAF and UniSQ’s Centre for Crop Health have long started a highly productive collaboration related to mungbean genetics and mungbean disease resistance. This new project builds on the existing links in this space in the spirit of BACI, to deliver outstanding results for Queensland agriculture by combining the specific expertise of DAF and UniSQ researchers.

This project was developed in consultation with Hermitage Research Facility to support the National Mungbean Improvement Program (NMIP) led by DAF. The specific aims of this investment are focussed on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of breeding mungbean lines with resistance to one of the major bacterial diseases of this crop, known as halo blight, caused by Pseudomonas savastanoi pv. phaseolicola (Psph). The genetic and pathogenic variability of this bacterial pathogen is largely unknown, and this knowledge gap has already impacted the mungbean breeding program.

The aims are to:

  • Characterise the genetic diversity of Psph population(s) in Queensland and assess evolutionary changes in pathogen population(s) since it was first reported on mungbean in the 1980s.
  • Identify genetic factors associated with pathogenicity/virulence of Psph on mungbean.
  • Support DAF mungbean breeding program through improved methodologies for rapid and reliable screening of mungbean genotypes for halo blight resistance.

The proposed project provides high level investigation of Psph population genomics and pathogenomics and is designed strategically to build on the outputs from past Queensland investments in order to support the current mungbean breeding efforts and investments, including NMIP (DAF/GRDC co-investment) and International Mungbean Improvement Program (DAF/ACIAR co-investment).


This project will provide sorghum breeding with screening tools to speed up the process of breeding for stalk rot and head blight resistance, thus, providing Queensland growers with better performing sorghum varieties. The outcomes of this project are critical for Queensland growers to reduce sorghum grain yield loss and potential contamination with mycotoxins associated with fatal diseases in livestock and detrimental health affects in humans.


  • Grain sorghum is the most important summer crop in Queensland constituting over 60% of the area planted to summer crops.
  • Stalk rot and head blight caused by Fusarium spp. are two major diseases reducing sorghum productivity through reduced grain yield and/or reduced marketability of harvested grain mainly due to the risk of mycotoxin contamination.
  • DAF recently identified increased occurrence of Fusarium diseases in Queensland sorghum fields due to: 1) conservation tillage farming practices, and 2) an increased sorghum frequency as a rotational tool for crown rot management in wheat, both contributing to a continuous upsurge in inoculum levels through high inter-crop survival of the pathogen populations.
  • Fusarium thapsinum and F. andiyazi have been identified as the dominant species causing sorghum stalk rot. Both species were the main pathogens causing sorghum head blight in 2011, a wet year with high disease incidents.
  • Fusarium thapsinum can produce the toxins moniliformin and fumonisins that have been associated with fatal diseases in livestock and detrimental health effects in humans.

Knowledge gaps

  • Chemical control methods have not been effective in controlling Fusarium diseases in sorghum in Australia. Other recommended cultural disease management strategies are also considered to be less effective in controlling Fusarium spp. due to
  • The ability of Fusarium spp. to enter the host as an endophyte and to become pathogenic at a later growth stage when plants are physiologically stressed.
  • Fusarium spp. can survive in paddocks irrespective of the presence or absence of sorghum over a 5-year period by infecting alternative hosts. Therefore, control options such as crop rotation would be less effective in managing Fusarium diseases.
  • Being soilborne pathogens, Fusarium spp. are also capable of spreading through the movement of soil or water from infected areas.
  • Host resistance has been proposed as the most cost-effective and reliable control measure for Fusarium disease management. However, Queensland sorghum breeding programs are faced with major limitations when breeding sorghum for head blight and stalk rot resistance/tolerance
    • High-throughput phenotyping protocols are not available.
    • Limited information is available on Australian pathogen populations such as dominating species/genotypes, genetic diversity within local pathogen populations, reproductive system, and presence of mating types, which are all critical information for breeding for durable resistance implementing long-term effective control measures.
    • Information related to the link between stalk rot and head blight is not available.

Locally dominant Fusarium spp. associated with head blight have not been identified. This project was developed in collaboration with the Queensland Sorghum Breeders, Prof. David Jordan (UQ/QAAFI) & Dr Alan Cruickshank from DAF and is a stepping-stone to leverage further opportunities in collaboration with commercial sorghum companies. This project will identify the link between head blight & stalk rot susceptibility, develop a head blight phenotyping method and evaluate its potential application to assess stalk rot susceptibility in sorghum. The project will also identify head blight and stalk rot resistant germplasm to be used by sorghum breeders to develop new sorghum varieties that are indispensable to Queensland growers.

The major aims of this project are to:

  • Determine whether head blight and stalk rot are caused by the same Fusarium species.
  • Develop an effective method to reliably phenotype sorghum for head blight and stalk rot resistance/tolerance in the glasshouse.
  • Investigate variation in the aggressiveness and pathogenicity of selected Fusarium spp. and provide sorghum breeders with highly aggressive isolates to use for phenotyping.
  • Identify locally dominant Fusarium species associated with head blight in Queensland sorghum fields and assess their genetic diversity.
  • Develop a method for identifying stalk rot and head blight susceptible sorghum genotypes in the field based on the above phenotyping method developed for the glasshouse.

Pigeonpea has the potential to offer Queensland growers a new pulse crop to diversify crop choices and therefore and expand economic gains for the grain-growing industry. Pigeonpea provides a valuable source of plant protein and is drought tolerant. Recently, a promising collection of 20 lines of pigeonpea were selected from multiple tests over several sites and years. However, there is no information of the response of this collection to two of Queensland’s most important and widespread soilborne biotic constraints:

  • the root-lesion nematode, Pratylenchus thornei
  • arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).

Pratylenchus thornei is found in 75% of southern Queensland’s grain-producing paddocks. The nematodes can cause yield loss of 65% in wheat and 20% in chickpea and mungbean costing northern region growers $38 million in lost income for wheat alone. To reduce the effect of P. thornei, several resistant crops need to be grown consecutively in crop sequences. However, the nematodes have a broad host range: most cereals and all pulse crops grown in Queensland are susceptible and cause nematode populations to increase.

Queensland’s grain growers need new cropping options, to decrease the effect of these nematodes and to optimise the benefits offered by pulse crops in farming systems.

Previous experiments by Owen et al. (2000) showed that four, older, commercial pigeon pea varieties were resistant and tolerant to P. thornei. In contrast, in 2016 at the Leslie Research Facility, Revell et al. (UQ) found that nine pigeonpea lines were moderately susceptible to P. thornei but plant growth and nematode reproduction was generally poor. The new collection of pigeonpea lines earmarked for release requires characterisation to determine the response of the lines to P. thornei.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are a valuable, but often under-utilised resource in Queensland’s farms. They are beneficial fungi, which colonise the roots of many important Queensland crops such as sorghum and chickpea, and improve:

  • the uptake of nutrients such as nitrogen, zinc and phosphorus;
  • drought tolerance and,
  • plant growth and yield.

Pigeonpea is highly dependent on AMF for plant growth and uptake of phosphorus (Wellings et al. 1991; Thompson 1999). In a glasshouse experiment at UniSQ in 2021 (Owen), pigeonpea plants were 23% larger when AMF were added to pasteurised soil compared soil with no added AMF. Potentially, there may be an interaction between P. thornei and AMF because both organisms occupy the same region within plant roots, which may affect nematode reproduction.  Recently, a new method was developed to investigate the interaction of a range of combinations of AMF and P. thornei levels on the growth of mungbean in a field experiment (Owen et al 2021). Remarkably, there were unique responses of each cultivar tested, which changed with the various combinations of AMF and P. thornei. This type of experiment applied to pigeonpea will offer additional insights to interactions that can occur between AMF and P. thornei and their effect on plant growth.

In order to reduce the impact of P. thornei and promote the benefits of AMF in sustainable rain-fed crop production in Queensland, careful planning of crop sequences is required. Pigeonpea potentially offers a new defence in the management of P. thornei, and an opportunity to promote and conserve the benefits offered by AMF to farming systems. The improved uptake of soil nutrients in mycorrhizal plants can also enhance the nutritional quality of grains for human consumption, reduce fertiliser use and increase the availability of poorly mobile nutrients such as phosphorus and zinc.

This project aims to determine the resistance/susceptibility of a promising collection of pigeonpea lines to the root-lesion nematode, Pratylenchus thornei and the effect and potential interaction with beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).

The information generated will:

  • optimise glasshouse screening methods for pigeonpea,
  • identify if new pigeonpea germplasm has resistance to P. thornei,
  • provide a field demonstration of the interaction of AMF x P. thornei.

Results of the project will provide Queensland growers with information about the role of pigeonpea in the management of the root-lesion nematode, Pratylenchus thornei and the importance of AMF to improve uptake of soil water and nutrients, and therefore crop production.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is a funder of research and development services for the broadacre industry through the University of Southern Queensland.

The Department's vision is for Queensland to be a world-leading provider of high-quality, safe and sustainably produced food and fibre.