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Weed research focus for GRDC, University joint new role

1 February 2016
Herbicide-resistance has prompted new approaches to tackling weeds, which cost more than $3 billion annually in Australia.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation and the University of Sydney have created a joint role to find solutions to controlling weeds resistant to once highly effective herbicides including the world’s most commonly used herbicide, glyphosate. It has been estimated that in Australia alone, farmers lose more than $3 billion annually because of weeds.

The additional use of non-chemical techniques have demonstrated real benefits.
Dr Michael Walsh.

Dr Michael Walsh with wild oats in Western Australia.

In response to the escalating problem of herbicide-resistant weeds, the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the University of Sydney have created a joint specialist role to find solutions to controlling weeds resistant to once highly effective herbicides including the world’s most commonly used herbicide, glyphosate.

Dr Michael Walsh will today commence as Director of Weed Research based at the University of Sydney. His work will focus on the GRDC northern cropping region, which he sees as the next frontier for the emerging threat of herbicide resistance.

It has been estimated that in Australia alone, farmers lose more than $3 billion annually because of weeds.

“Weeds are a problem in crops everywhere but it’s the reliance on herbicides that is the major issue,” Dr Walsh said.

“The additional use of non-chemical techniques have demonstrated real benefits. For example, in a focus paddock study, we found that ryegrass populations can be reduced to near zero.”

Dr Walsh will expand on the applied research efforts conducted in Western Australia in the past 16 years, where he worked within the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative.

Dr Walsh’s research has focused on the introduction and development of harvest weed seed control systems that target weed seeds during grain harvest. It has resulted in the introduction of a new mechanical weed control system, with the commercialisation of the Harrington seed destructor in 2012.

His work has stimulated the widespread adoption of harvest weed seed control across Australia as well as the introduction of these systems into north America.

The GRDC will fund the new significant research and extension program though the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute. Dr Walsh will initially be located at the IA Watson Grains Research Centre in Narrabri. The five-year role signifies long-term commitment from the University of Sydney, the GRDC and the property owner, the NSW Wheat Research Foundation.

“The northern region encompasses a markedly diverse range of cropping systems and weed control issues,” Dr Walsh said.

“As well as developing weed control strategies that reduce the impacts of herbicide resistance in areas where this is already a problem, it is hoped that these strategies will be used to prevent the development of herbicide resistance, in areas this problem has not yet occurred.”

GRDC general manager of crop protection, Dr Ken Young, said Dr Walsh would bring substantial research expertise in adopting science to practical management options for growers. 

“The GRDC looks forward to Michael applying his experience to tackling northern weeds, Dr Young said. “This appointment will continue the strong relationship between the GRDC and the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute.” 

Vivienne Reiner

Media and PR Adviser (Science, Veterinary Science, Agriculture)
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