This year’s New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays scholarship winner, Shannon Hunter, is conducting research that will make an important contribution to New Zealand’s growing avocado industry.
The University of Waikato Masters student has been awarded a $22,000 New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship to assist her research to determine whether the pathogen causing root rot disease of avocado is building up resistance to the fungicide currently used to protect avocado trees.
Research into resistance
The species that causes the disease is Phytophthora cinnamomi. The fungicide used to manage it, phosphite, is widely used across all agricultural sectors for disease management. It is currently being tested for use in protecting kauri and pine.
“Shannon’s results will not only be important for the vibrant and expanding avocado industry. They will be useful for understanding the threat of loss of control of several other Phytophthora pathogens affecting the agricultural sector,” says her supervisor Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Mike Clearwater.
Bay of Plenty research focus
It was a microbiology course during Shannon’s undergraduate degree that sparked her interest in plant pathology. A summer placement at Rotorua Crown Research Institute, Scion, working in the Forest Protection team saw her complete a short research project that made her want to continue working in plant pathology research.
Shannon is gathering samples from six avocado orchards in the Bay of Plenty region to support her research. She says with New Zealand, having used phosphite to manage avocado root rot for over 25 years, it provides an excellent model system to study fungicide resistance.
Shannon’s project involves collaboration with the NZ Avocado Industry Research Council and Phytophthora experts’ Dr Peter Scott and Dr Rebecca McDougal at Scion. The scholarship will fund a research trip to USA later in the year where she will work with researchers from the University of California, Riverside to test their cultures from avocado orchards and the University of California, Berkeley, to test other important species for phosphite resistance.
The NZ Agricultural Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship was established in 2012 by the NZ National Fieldays Society Inc. and is awarded to graduate students at the University of Waikato whose research is seen to have a meaningful outcome for the agricultural industry.
Shannon says she feels honoured to receive the award which will enable her to fully focus on research she hopes will be useful for informing the sustainable use of phosphite for industries reliant on it for disease management ensuring its effectiveness into the future.
“I am proud that the Fieldays Society saw the value of my research project and wanted to support this research.”