Published: 6 Jul 2018
As an authority on mushroom pests and diseases, Dr Warwick Gill of the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture is leading a new research project to help the Australian mushroom industry maintain its relatively disease-free status.
TIA’s national research and extension project, funded by Hort Innovation, aims to provide farmers with the information and techniques they need to reduce the threat and costs of mushroom pests and diseases.
“Mushrooms can be vulnerable to disease because their genetic base is pretty much the same world-wide,” said Dr Gill.
“The mushrooms growing in Europe are genetically identical to the mushrooms growing in Australia, so a disease incursion from Europe will affect mushrooms in Australia.”
He said the Australian mushroom industry is currently free from at least eight ‘new and emerging’ pathogens that have impacted the industry overseas, and mushrooms remain a very safe crop to eat.
“The major kinds of diseases affecting mushrooms are fungal, like ‘dry bubble’ disease that’s responsible for more than 20 percent of button mushroom crop losses worldwide.”
Apart from fungal diseases, the other main kind of pathogen are bacteria.
“One of the bacterial diseases we haven’t got here are called ‘soft rots’ – they can do damage in 12 hours, and destroy a crop in 24 hours.”
As a former grower and farm manager at Huon Valley Mushrooms, Dr Gill understands the practical realities for farmers.
Mushrooms are our sixth most valuable horticultural crop, and as one of our most technologically advanced industries, the research work is looking to protect the industry investment.
Dr Gill said because the industry was relatively disease free, most of the information and first action responses come from the current knowledge of overseas experiences.
“The role of this project is to provide growers with that knowledge, so when they see something, they know what to do immediately.”
With disease potentially carried in casing soil and supplements, the key to containing mushroom diseases is hygiene on the farm.
The current project to improve preventative hygiene on all Australian farms builds on previous work where Dr Gill developed an innovative sampling technique.
Paint rollers were used to take standardised samples from rough surfaces like concrete floors and smaller smooth surfaces such as table tops.
“We’ve shown floors are reservoirs of disease on farms, particularly in shared areas like tea rooms, toilets, offices, and car parks where people from the harvesting side mix with people from the production side.
“The floor is the major structure throughout the whole farm that connects everything, so if there’s something on the floor it’s going to get walked through the whole farm, and cross-contamination can easily occur.”
“We’re targeting those areas now to look at different techniques for applying sanitisers and disinfectants.”
Fungal and bacterial diseases are also spread naturally by insects like flies.
“Mushroom flies are active throughout the year, particularly in summer, but we now have evidence that people and their activities are more significant than we thought.”
“So we’re targeting things like watering, picking, those things that you do day in and day out, which we now know can potentially spread diseases.”
While the mushroom industry has good hygiene protocols in place, Dr Gill wants to ensure growers are equipped to prevent and manage on-farm disease threats from new and emerging pathogens.
“We’re engaging with growers at the moment because they’re the people who make the change, and make the decisions on the farm,” Dr Gill said.
The project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the mushroom research and development levy and funds from the Australian Government.
Published as CuppaTIA in Tasmanian Country on 6 July 2018