La Trobe researcher targets parasite

A La Trobe University scientist is working to uncover the true impact of the liver fluke parasite on one of Victoria's biggest export industries.

AgriBioscience Honours graduate, Jane Kelley has already discovered the parasite, long thought to be under control by regular drug treatments, has developed resistance in some dairy herds in Victoria and is reducing productivity.

Now she is undertaking new work to determine the true extent of the problem in other parts of the state and what can be done to help farmers combat the parasite.

Jane says fasciolosis caused by liver fluke, reduces a cow's capacity to produce milk and is a major and unrecognised issue within the Australian cattle industry.

'Victoria's dairy industry is worth millions in exports - a resurgence of liver fluke will have serious financial and productivity ramifications for the state and its dairy farmers,' she said.

'Literature published in 2007 shows liver fluke was already costing cattle and sheep producers between $50 and 80 million a year.'

Jane's initial study of several farms in the Maffra region near Gippsland found that on properties with liver fluke, around 80 per cent of the herd was infected.

She argues it requires urgent attention to determine the extent of the problem within endemic regions, particularly given that prevalence studies haven't been conducted in Victoria since the late1970's.

She says initial estimates suggest liver fluke is costing the Gippsand region about $9 million a year in lost milk production.

Ms Kelley's work is being partly funded under a $20,000 grant through the prestigious Federal Government 2014 Science and Innovation Award, which recognises young people for their outstanding research in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The grant will allow Ms Kelley to widen her study into the prevalence and cost of liver fluke infections in dairy cattle across north-eastern Victoria over the next year.

Her project will use a new, more accurate diagnostic technique which will simplify on-farm screening.

In collaboration with local veterinarians, she will also advise farmers on best management practices that minimise the impact of liver fluke. Jane's long term goal is to develop best practice guidelines to reduce parasitic burdens in cattle thus ensuring a healthy and productive herd.

The project is collaboration between La Trobe University, the Victoria Department of Environment and Primary Industries and local veterinary practices.


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