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New grapevine assessment tool aims to reduce trunk diseases

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Helen Waite, PhD student at Charles Sturt University has developed a new grapevine risk assessment tool, designed to reduce trunk diseases in grapevine cuttings.

Waite says that quite often, growers did not consider the quality of their planting material, which can lead to hefty costs later down the track.

"It's only when the vines don't grow well or fail within two years that they start to think about the quality of the planting material, but of course by then it has cost them a lot of time and money,'' she said.

"Unhealthy vines are less productive, they produce poorer quality fruit, they're harder to manage and therefore they cost a lot more money so it can sometimes threaten the sustainability of a vineyard.''

The traditional method of using a hot water treatment is effective to reduce disease according to Waite, but can also cause stress on the plant. Instead Waite is looking towards a system for grape vine propagation that can use hot water in an effective way.

Waite says that her research indicates the importance of handling and storing cuttings both before and after hot water treatment.

"If we put them straight into cold storage in sealed plastic bags after treatment it basically suffocates the plant,'' she said.

"It's also got to do with how far into the winter they are treated. If it's close to spring and they have started to come out of dormancy then the cuttings are much more susceptible to damage in hot water treatment."

Waite has developed a risk assessment spread sheet will provide grape growers with more information on what there are planting, and her research has led to the development of a set of guidelines for hot water treatment of cuttings to be trialled this year at an Australian nursery.

"The grower can open the package, look at the bundle of vines, use the assessment criteria to get a score, then sample some vines, peeling the bark off and dissecting the vines to look for disease,'' she said. "That combined with an examination of the paperwork will give an overall score of the risk of planting that material."

“It’s difficult to change practises at a time when they’re not selling much product due to the down-turn in the wine industry but there has been a new willingness on the part of the nurseries, and the vine improvement schemes who supply the cuttings, to change what they are doing to ensure there’s a better product coming out of the system,” she said.

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