A KATANNING farmer and a Curtin University scientist this week thanked Year Five students at Parkwood Primary School for their help in fighting powdery mildew.
The students participated in the Citizen Science project Mildew Mania, where they were shown how to catch powdery mildew on different varieties of barley.
They sent the samples to researchers at Curtin University and the Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) for further investigation.
Powdery mildew is a barley disease costing WA farmers up to $100 million in crop losses and fungicide control per year.
CCDM director Mark Gibberd said since the project's establishment in 2011 more than 14,000 WA students from about 220 schools have been involved.
"Activities such as Mildew Mania provide an important link between school children and agriculture," Professor Gibberd said.
"School children in cities such as Perth often have very limited exposure to agriculture and Mildew Mania opens their eyes to real world problems and solutions associated with modern food production."
CCDM researcher Nola D'Souza said the samples received played an important part in staying on top of powdery mildew, as students were asked to grow different varieties of barley and see if powdery mildew spores in their particular location infect individual varieties.
"We've received samples from all over WA, from as far as Esperance to Broome, which means we are getting a much better cross section of what's actually out there,'' Dr D'Souza said.
"Consequently we are able to keep better track of the disease and watch for the development of new pathotypes, as well as ensuring resistant barley varieties retain their resistance.
"Where the testing regime confirms a break down of plant resistance to powdery mildew, CCDM and GRDC will actively disseminate information to growers on which varieties are affected."
Katanning farmer Mick Quartermaine and Dr D'Souza presented the Parkwood Primary students with certificates, and thanked them for their contribution to Mildew Mania.
Mr Quartermaine said such crop disease research was crucial to a lot of farming businesses, as variety selection was important for producing higher yields.
"Managing disease in a farming system can be very challenging and unpredictable, however knowing there are robust varieties that are resistant to disease can not only help us increase yields, but can also reduce our use of fungicides," Mr Quartermaine said.
"It's great to see my GRDC levy being used to help Curtin researchers develop new tools for breeding more resistant varieties, as well as improving the way we use fungicides.
"They are also exploring how they can better incorporate these into our farming system strategies and tactics."
Mildew Mania is co-ordinated by science outreach officer Gina Pearse, with support from Curtin's Science Outreach team and its Department of Environment and Agriculture.
Mildew Mania will continue in 2016, and interested schools can find more information at www.mildewmania.com.au.