Soil DNA helps humble spud – research team recognised

SARDI award winning researcher, Dr Kathy Ophel Keller with field researcher Mike Rettke.
SARDI award winning researcher, Dr Kathy Ophel Keller with field researcher Mike Rettke.

A new diagnostic test developed by the award-winning research team led by Dr Kathy Ophel Keller, could help local fresh potato growers identify the risk of disease and deliver better quality produce.

Dr Ophel Keller is research chief, sustainable systems division, at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), and was recently awarded the Researcher of the Year Award at the AUSVEG National Convention on the Gold Coast on June 1.

The Researcher of the Year Award acknowledges researchers for successful research or extension work in fields which have made long-term advancements for the vegetable industry.

Dr Ophel Keller has been recognised for the contribution by her team to the horticulture industry, particularly the potato industry, and says the soil DNA diagnostic tests developed by the team assess the risk of diseases which reduce yield and tuber quality caused by powdery scab, root knot nematode, rhizoctonia and common scab. While much of Dr Ophel Keller’s 25-year agriculture research career has been in the grains industry, she says some of the technology developed can be applied to other industries.

“We can see the same types of technology for assessing soil-borne disease risks are important for the vegetable type crops,” she said.

“There’s also potential to monitor soil health more broadly – that’s a future direction we would like to head in.”

And while a lot of the focus for this project has been on the processed potato industry, Dr Ophel Keller says this new diagnostic test does have benefits for the fresh potato market also.

“I think it will definitely have a spin off for growers here,” she said.

“Black dot, which is of great interest to the fresh market industry, reduces quality and yield and is a major problem for them in terms of downgrades because of tuber blemishes.”

Workshops for growers and advisers who are interested in accessing the diagnostic testing service are currently being organised.

• For further details, contact Michael Rettke on or phone: 8303 9414.


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