Seeing a header turn red from stem rust dust has left a lasting impression on 81-year-old Wolseley farmer Max Brown. He can easily recall the sight of headers changing colours during the 1973 and 1974 stem rust epidemic which caused an estimated $300 million damage across South Australia and Victoria. This is equivalent to $2.65 billion in today’s terms.
“We had a great looking crop and there was just nothing left when we reapt it,” he said.
“We would have been expecting 20 bags (4 tonnes/hectare) and in the end, it went just 4 bags (0.8 tonnes/hectare). In that year, we had a total crop of 61 tonnes. The previous year was 200 tonnes. It just demolished the crops. And it was common, everybody was experiencing the same thing.”
Max and his son Steve farm two properties near Wolseley in the State’s upper south-east, grazing sheep and cropping. On their home block of 555 hectares, they grow Mace wheat, barley, canola and beans.
The 1974 stem rust epidemic is not the only one Mr Brown’s sharp mind can recall. While at school in 1947, he remembers helping his father during the holiday period.
“The crops looked good until about six weeks before harvest. We had a big rain in October and that was the end of it. I remember we had a harvester where you could hear the grain rattling around as it came in. That year, it was silent. There was just no grain there.”
Son Steve explains they don’t need to do any summer spraying as the sheep graze, hence reducing any risk of a green bridge carrying rust inoculum from one season to the next. They do, however, treat the seed and put out a treatment with the fertiliser to manage rust, and follow up with two sprays during the growing season.
“These days, it’s a given that you’re going to spray,” Steve said. “Years ago, we used to monitor and look for hot spots, but these days we spray reasonably early to minimise the chance of any rust developing.
“Our first spray in usually around July or August, of a tebuconazole spray. We then use a second spray treatment around September, October.
“We listen to our agronomist and keep in close contact with him and know what’s going on. We can occasionally see rust when we do that second spray but we’re not actively looking for it because we’re spraying anyway.”
 Industry biosecurity plan for the grains industry: Australia’s Preparedness for Ug99, Prof. Robert F Park and Plant Health Australia, October 2009, accessed online http://www.planthealthaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Wheat-stem-rust-Ug99-Business-Continuity-Plan.pdf
 The Reserve Bank of Australia’s Inflation Calculator calculates the change in cost of purchasing a representative ‘basket of goods and services’ over a period of time. http://www.rba.gov.au/calculator/annualDecimal.html