FIGHTING fungal pathogens is an "arms race" we're better equipped than ever before to fight.
This is the opinion of Curtin University professor Mark Gibberd who is leading the charge as director of the Centre for Crop Disease Management (CCDM).
Now 18 months into the job and a year from moving into Curtin University's $46 million agriculture research facility, Professor Gibberd said the centre is already delivering outcomes and saving industry time and money.
It is estimated the CCDM has saved Australian farmers $85m a year via discoveries which have led to more disease resistant crop varieties, in addition to environmental and economic savings from fungicides.
"The awareness of crop diseases is changing and I think the presence of the CCDM represents that in many ways," Professor Gibberd said.
"From Curtin's point of view we made the decision to focus our investment and research to key deliverable outcomes for industry and that was around dealing with fungal diseases.
"We wanted to specialise and have strengths in that place and invest heavily alongside industry in doing so and by doing that we're in it for the long haul.
"This is not a short-term project or problem.
"As new aspects emerge and evolve we will have the resources to deal with that because of this investment."
Professor Gibberd said one of his strategies in setting up the CCDM for the long-term was gathering a team of young and energetic scientists who will be around for many years.
He said the younger demographic of his team would benefit agriculture.
The CCDM is building on Curtin's previous work through the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP) that has delivered discoveries and outcomes estimated to be saving industry $85m per year.
By 2020, the savings from the discoveries is expected to increase to nearly $400m per year, plus savings from the decreased use of fungicides. Both horticultural and grain industries benefit from CCDM's research and development.
The CCDM is a $100m investment, with the Grains Research and Development Corporation contributing $30m as part of a bilateral agreement launched in 2014.
The $30m is equivalent to a 20 cents per hectare per year contribution from a grower's levy payment.
The funding is helping CCDM researchers reduce the costs of crop disease, estimated to cost growers more than $1.5 billion in yield losses.
The work being carried out by CCDM researchers spans septoria nodorum blotch in wheat, net blotch in barley, ascochyta blight in pulses, fungicide resistance, sclerotinia stem rot of wheat, yellow spot of wheat, powdery mildew in barley, bioinformatic studies of plant and microbial genomes and improving farming systems.
There is also a new focus on education and engagement.
Professor Gibberd said this focus recognised the divide between what is being done to help industry and what industry knows or understands is being done.
"Education extends right back into high school kids where we're introducing the Mildew Mania program to understand fungal diseases and introduce them to crops and crop grains," he said.
"We've put 15,000 kids in the State through that program.
"That raises the issue in regional and city locations.
"We extend those communication activities right out into the regions to the growers and into the community to raise awareness because in general there's been a comparatively low level awareness of the issues we face around fungal diseases.
"They are a major constraint to what we do and a potentially very large constraint to food security.
"It's a current issue and a future issue.
"Particularly over the past 10-15 years it has emerged and continues to grow."
CCDM extension and engagement program leader John Noonan said the dealing with fungal diseases had improved in recent years.
He said with this grew the need for education for growers and agronomists which formed a large part of his role.
"We have a much more integrated process now with the breeding process, the chemistry around the fungicides, the way the farmers can look at cropping rotations and the lifespan of that particular package," he said.
"Our goal is to maximise that package so that we're not chasing our tail after two years and having a five to seven year window for example.
"By doing that instead of when Syngenta or Bayer releases a product growers go out and use it, we're already looking at those products before they're released and looking at how they fit and how we can extend the lifespan of the usefulness of these products.
"The impact of disease on yield and gross margins has historically always been down the pecking order and we've been worrying about other things.
"This whole space is proving to be more acutely part of the decision-making process and the yield impacts are much more recognisable."