It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the destructive Ugandan strain of wheat rust makes it to Australia, according to an overseas researcher.

Dr Carey Fowler from the Global Crop Diversity Trust says if the virus became more widespread it could have horrific impact on the world food market.

Wheat rust is a common fungal disease that drastically reduces yields and is thought the cause of the Biblical wheat plague.

Dr Fowler says the global grains industry is scrambling to prepare for this latest ‘plague’.

The first mutation of the disease, known as UG-99, was identified in Uganda in 1999 and has spread through Africa and the Middle East and is “on its way to India” according to Dr Fowler.

“Australian agriculture, as agriculture in other countries, simply needs to be prepared for this when it does come but preparation takes time. You have to find the resistance and you have to breed it into the new varieties. So there’s crash programs going on around the world to try to protect the wheat industry from this disease.”

The CSIRO is currently working on developing new varieties of wheat that are resistant to UG-99.

In this report: Dr Carey Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust based in Rome