Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Preparing for plant pest incursions

August 16, 2011

Greg Fraser at deskThere have been many high profile stories in the media lately about the importation of Chinese apples and South American grapes, as well as incursions of Chestnut blight, Myrtle rust, Asian honeybees and a number of weeds. Recent media attention has heightened concerns about the risk of exotic plant pests making their way into Australia. 

While it’s true that these issues may change the pest threat picture for Australia, concerns about exotic plant pests aren’t new. We know that there are over 300 high priority pests that aren’t yet in Australia, all of which pose potential threats to our plant industries, environment and rural communities. Any of these, should they establish in Australia, have the potential to seriously affect productivity in some kinds of crops, potentially threatening the sustainability of industries, as well as adversely affecting market access and compliance requirements for our produce.

With ever-larger trade volumes and increasing passenger travel, the potential for pest incursions and their rapid spread is rising. This is precisely why Plant Health Australia (PHA) was established 11 years ago – to create a partnership between government and industry that allows Australia to improve our preparedness to deal with potential threats to our plant industries.

PHA is the national coordinator of this government–industry partnership. As a not-for-profit company with federal government, state and territory government, and industry Members, PHA is a partnership that acts primarily in the interests of plant biosecurity. 

Should an emergency plant pest incursion occur, PHA maintains the management arrangements that allow a swift and effective response. 

In biosecurity however, prevention is better than cure, and PHA plays an important role in helping Australian industries prepare for incursions with biosecurity planning. PHA assists individual industries to develop an industry biosecurity plan (IBP), such as the IBP for the Vegetable Industry that was released earlier this year. IBPs are based on the latest scientific findings providing the best possible preparedness for pests. Being forewarned is forearmed. 

First, experts are brought together to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the threats that could damage the industry’sproduce. A risk assessment involves consideration of the sources of risk, their consequences, and the likelihood that those consequences may occur.  

Having identified the pests of main concern, the next step is devising ways of guarding against them, and, importantly, making plans to respond should one be detected in Australia.

With the pest threat picture constantly shifting, and prevention and preparedness options evolving, biosecurity plans must be regularly updated. In fact, the 2011 vegetable IBP was the second version, updating the first edition that was launched in 2007. 

Whilst PHA works with industries to make biosecurity plans, we also encourage producers to play their part by instigating good biosecurity practices on-farm. The Farm Biosecurity Program, run by PHA and Animal Health Australia, outlines the steps that producers can take on their farm or in their orchard to reduce the risk of spreading plant pests. Washing down vehicles in designated wash down areas provides a first line of defence. Regular surveillance of crops, and immediate reporting of anything unusual to the Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 is also vital. 

At the other end of the spectrum, PHA addresses plant biosecurity at a national level, improving the plant biosecurity system as a whole. In May this year PHA launched the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy, a vision for Australia’s plant biosecurity system to take us to 2020. The strategy is the culmination of more than three year’s work, which formulated the strategy on behalf of its Members and in close consultation with hundreds of expert stakeholders across Australia’s plant biosecurity system. 

In a constantly changing biosecurity environment, it’s good to know that the PHA partnership of governments and industries is working at all these levels to prepare for plant pest incursions. 

For more information on PHA go to www.planthealthaustralia.com.au.

Author: Greg Fraser, Executive Director and CEO of Plant Health Australia