Australia is free of many of the grain pests that cause crop losses overseas. While we largely maintain this pest free status with a quarantine system that is the envy of the world, natural pathways such as wind and water and the sheer volumes of people and produce entering Australia mean that entry of new pests is a constant threat.
One such threat, Russian wheat aphid (RWA), causes significant yield loss in wheat and barley and has become established in all grain growing regions of the world besides Australia. In other countries, RWA places significant pressure on research, breeding and management efforts to limit its impact.
Biosecurity measures to protect against RWA are about more than just quarantine activities at the border. Being on the look-out in paddocks is vital if RWA is to be detected early enough to stop its establishment and spread.
Surveillance in the form of crop monitoring goes on during each cropping season right across Australia but is largely unrecognised as a source of information and an early warning system for pests like RWA. A joint GRDC/Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity (CRCNPB) project is developing a surveillance plan which looks specifically at the role routine crop monitoring done by growers, agronomists and consultants might play as part of a ‘general’ surveillance program for RWA. The surveillance plan is being developed by Drs Sama Low Choy from the CRCNPB and Sharyn Taylor from Plant Health Australia.
Dr Taylor says there are a lot of people looking at crops for many different reasons. “Given that RWA causes plant stunting and white and purple streaking on leaves, we’re hoping this will trigger a report quickly,” says Dr Taylor.
The surveillance plan has used information from experts in the areas of entomology, field diagnosis, surveillance and extension to identify the probability of people searching for, finding and then reporting an infestation of RWA.
“The problem with this pest will be the speed at which it will spread if it gets here. We need to find the first infection, and make sure that it’s reported immediately to have any chance of eradicating or slowing its spread through management”, Dr Taylor says.
Results from the surveillance plan will help us work out if general surveillance by growers and consultants can be effective in detecting the pest early enough to mount an effective response.
Source: This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 edition of Groundcover