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

Surveillance helps verify pest-absence data

May 22, 2012

Karnal bunt seedsWhen it comes to meeting the expectations of international grain buyers there is a world of difference between ‘not known to exist’ and ‘known not to exist’ for exotic plant pests and diseases. You can manage the first simply by keeping your eyes closed. The second requires active surveillance and the ability to identify specific pests and disease symptoms.

That is where the National Variety Trials (NVT) come in. Through the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program, grains biosecurity officers in each state are in the process of developing training and reporting strategies for staff managing the trials that will add significantly to national ‘pest absence’ data.

NVT executive officer Alan Bedggood says with around 300 NVT sites across the country involving the major winter cereals it provides a significant resource for surveillance data. “It’s a logical extension of the varietal trials established to provide information for growers, and will help protect our export markets.”

Collection of surveillance data from NVT sites was first initiated three years ago on a voluntary basis and is slowly expanding as more staff involved in the trials are trained and new reporting procedures are established.

Western Australian grains biosecurity officer Jeff Russell says two private providers and the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA (DAFWA) manage the state’s NVT sites, which take in all agronomic zones across the state from north of Geraldton to east of Esperance.

“We have only been doing surveillance for exotic plant pests for a few seasons and we try to provide training at the start of each season, including fact sheets for agronomists. This year DAFWA will have a new training course for its own staff, which includes an online identification module.”

Mr Russell says the return of surveillance information has generally been good, but the sheer size of the state and the number of people and geographic spread of those involved has made it a challenge to ensure everyone has the information they need at the right time to collect the required data.

Victoria’s grains biosecurity officer Jim Moran says private agronomists manage many of the NVT sites in the state and most have been keen to provide surveillance data. “They report quarterly on whether they have seen any of the six highest priority exotic plant pests in their trials. Their data then goes into the National Plant Surveillance Reporting Tool (NPSRT) to support a ‘known not to exist’ status in Victoria.”

According to NSW grains biosecurity officer Dr Louise Rossiter, surveillance for pests in grain samples has been strongly supported in NSW and surveillance for pests in field trials is increasing. Laboratory analysis of grain samples for disease includes screening for Karnal bunt. The NSW Department of Primary Industries manages all of the state’s trials and regularly provides analysis of grain samples to verify the absence of the disease.

Judy Bellati, South Australia’s grains biosecurity officer, is working with pathologists at the SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI) to collect information from laboratory analyses and from the field trials that SARDI manages. Ms Bellati has also established several NVT specialist programs in the NPSRT and provides training on the recognition of exotic pests to private agronomists involved in running the state’s trials.

Information from all of these sources will help add to capturing our knowledge of the absence of pests in Australian grain crops, potentially providing a valuable source of data for the early detection of new pests and strengthening our ‘known not to occur’ status for exotic pests.

More information about the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program is available from Plant Health Australia on 02 6215 77oo.

If you spot anything unusual on your crops, call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

Credit: Reproduced with the permission of the Grains Research and Development Corporation

Source:  The GRDC’s Ground Cover newspaper, Issue 98, May/June 2012