BLUEBERRY growers in Western Australia are on heightened alert following the detection last month of the dreaded disease, blueberry rust for the first time.
Laboratory analysis confirmed the detection of the fungal disease in a nursery near Perth in mid April which has prompted the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) to call on gardeners and horticulture growers across the State to check plants in hopes of containing it.
Blueberry rust is found in the eastern states but not in WA.
It is a notifiable disease that impacts blueberry fruit production by causing reduced vigour, premature leaf loss and reduced yield. It is spread by tiny spores.
The department is undertaking tracing and delimiting surveillance to determine the spread of the disease, which will be supported by monitoring and reporting by industry and the public.
DPIRD chief plant biosecurity officer Sonya Broughton urged gardeners and growers to inspect plants regularly for disease symptoms and to report any suspect observations to the department's Pest and Disease Information Service or via the MyPestGuide Reporter app.
"Symptoms are most noticeable on the underside of leaves, where yellow pustules can appear, which release thousands of yellow spores that can infect other leaves and spread the disease," she said.
"Also look for small reddish spots on the upper surfaces of young leaves, which can darken with age and often surrounded by a yellow halo.
"Disease pustules may also appear on fruit later in the season."
According to the 2020/21 Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook, WA accounted for 2 per cent of Australia's total blueberry production, putting out some 504 tonnes for the period.
In 2021, the disease was declared endemic in Victoria after being discovered on farms in that state. It has also caused headaches for Tasmanian farmers in recent years.
Blueberry rust can be managed using permitted fungicides or by planting tolerant varieties.
Good on-farm and garden hygiene is also imperative to prevent the disease from spreading, including using clean garden tools, washing shoes and clothing and limiting the movement of vehicles and garden implements near plants.
Dr Broughton encouraged growers and gardeners to employ a "come clean, go clean" approach to crop and garden management.
"It is important not disturb or move the plant, while care should be taken to ensure that any clothes or equipment do not become contaminated," she said.
"If you suspect blueberry rust is present in your plants you must report it immediately, as it is a notifiable disease."
The DPIRD website has detailed information on disease symptoms, onfarm hygiene measures and monitoring and reporting measures.
Report suspect blueberry rust symptoms to the department via the MyPestGuide Reporter app or to its Pest and Disease Information Service on (08) 9368 3080, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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