Giving vine diseases the boot

In our July e-news we introduced you to Dr Mark Sosnowski, the trunk disease guru, who shared his top tips for healthy pruning. In this issue, we tell you more about Mark’s research, which is now being adopted by the New Zealand wine industry.

In addition, an eradication treatment involving drastic pruning and canopy reconstruction, is being evaluated internationally to assist in management of diseases exotic to Australia.

Mark is Senior Research Scientist at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and has been studying trunk diseases since 2003, developing ways to minimise their impact, such as applying wound treatments to pruning cuts to prevent infection, and remedial surgery (lopping affected vines at the trunk) to eradicate the trunk disease pathogens.

“More recently I’ve been involved in management of various foliar or surface diseases. What I’ve understood from working with grapevines is that older vines are generally more valuable. But if an exotic disease drops in, regulators could instruct the removal of all vines in the case of an incursion. This would obviously be a huge loss, not only to the grower, especially in the case of very old vineyards, but also to the industry in general,” Mark said.

“To combat this issue, my theory was, if you get a disease that just inhabits the leaves and fruit, what if we could just cut the vine at the trunk and re-grow it. Then you don’t lose the quality or age factors that exist in the extensive root system, but you rid the vine of the disease.”

Mark developed and simulated this idea in Sunraysia on Black Spot and was able to prove the technique worked. He then went to Cornell University in the US and ran the same protocol on Black Rot (exotic to Australia), and validated his theory.

“We were able to eradicate the disease without pulling out the vines. And two years later the disease didn’t recur in the treated vines,” Mark said. “We developed a diagnostic protocol and now have an incursion management response plan for Black Rot, helping Australia’s preparedness to combat this exotic disease.”

Mark’s team is now conducting similar research for Angular Leaf Scorch (exotic to Australia), working with researchers at Cornell University again.

And recently, the almond industry approached Mark to assist with disease management. “They saw what we were doing with grapes, and they would like us to address trunk diseases in almond trees,” he said. “The pathogens are the same as in vines, and we hope to transfer our knowledge and move some of the management strategies across to another important industry for South Australia.”

For more information about Mark and his research click here.