Grow Help - helps you grow better

By Gabrielle Stannus

Dr Andrew Manners, Senior Entomologist with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) is the manager of the Grow Help Australia diagnostic service.

Grow Help Australia provides a comprehensive disease and pest diagnostic service for all horticultural crops, including nursery production, fruit and vegetable crops, the cut flower industry, street trees and speciality crops. Grow Help Australia can test for pests and disease organisms in plants, seeds, potting mix, soil and water. They also conduct plant pathogen testing to support accreditation scheme and export requirements. Clients are provided with a comprehensive final written report, including practical advice on how to fix identified problems, usually within two weeks of sending your sample into them.

Each year this service receives between 200-300 nursery samples, or approximately one sample per working day on average. In the last five years, Grow Help Australia have received over 400 different host plant species and diagnosed over 300 different pathogens.

“Anyone can send plants to a diagnostic lab. What is difficult is dealing with abiotic factors causing plant health problems”, says Andrew, “Monitoring is the most important activity in regards to pest and disease management. If you don’t monitor, you don’t look regularly and systematically, then you’re not informed”.

Monitoring essentially allows you to know if you are doing a good job, i.e. whether or not your normal nursery practices are working to produce healthy plants.

If putting a new monitoring system into place, Andrew recommends taking baby steps at first whilst making a plan of attack for intermediate and longer-term action. Experiment with different treatments under different conditions, e.g. light, when necessary and record the outcomes. Keep electronic records to show whether any treatments you have applied are working over time.

Andrew says some growers think they monitor plant health by making regular visual observations. However, these are not enough. “Go out with an open mind when you’re monitoring” says Andrew, “Don’t jump to conclusions”. Sometimes growers think that a pest or disease is attacking their crop, when other issues are at play, e.g. incorrect pH or EC of water and growing media. These issues can only be picked reliably by testing.

Nursery Production Farm Management System

So how to start with a monitoring plan for your nursery? Andrew reminds growers and retailers that the Nursery Production Farm Management System (NPFMS) website contains a wealth of information to help you better manage pests and diseases at your nursery. These materials include monitoring plans, fact sheets, management plans and nursery papers.

In consultation with a technical officer, you can tailor the NPFMS to address your unique business risks. That way you can get the best out of NPFMS’ three programs: EcoHort, BioSecure HACCP and the Nursery Industry Accreditation Scheme Australia (NIASA).

One bonus for NIASA accredited nurseries is that they are eligible for ten free basic or complex tests from Grow Help Australia per calendar year until the end of 2020. And a nursery discount applies for additional samples submitted within the calendar year.

So if you are not already NIASA accredited, now might just be the time to consider it.

POSTNOTE: Upcoming workshops

Together with John Duff, Andrew will be delivering the latest in the “Building the Resilience and On-Farm Biosecurity” Workshop Series, co-funded by DAF, Hort Innovation and the nursery levy funded project (NY15002).

The next topic is “Insect and mite integrated crop management”. Workshops will be held on 19 September (Queensland), 21 September (Sunshine Coast), and then in November (Western Australia and Victoria).

Further details of these workshops will be posted in the relevant State Association newsletters. And stay tuned for details of webinars Andrew is planning for 2018.