The cropping and horticulture industries are on notice to closely monitor crops this autumn and winter for signs of disease, especially fungal diseases.
Kyle Thoms, Plant Health Australia (PHA) General Manager, Corporate Strategy & Communication, says the summer’s weather events mean farm biosecurity should be elevated to a priority in farm management.
Mr Thoms says that in the cropping sector, established cereal rust strains and newer virulent strains – such as Ug99 rust and barley stripe rust which have not yet reached Australia’s shores – are serious threats. A stripe rust incursion in 2002 is estimated to have cost Australian wheat growers $40-90 million a year in control costs.
“Ensure you are familiar with what rust looks like and be on the lookout for any signs of disease, especially on varieties which are supposed to be resistant.”
He says growers travelling overseas or hosting international visitors should ensure clothing and footwear is, at the very least, washed thoroughly before and after visiting farms.
“While we in-part rely on the scientists to incorporate resistance genes in new varieties to keep one step ahead of the evolving strains of rust, the other, equally essential part of the protection equation is the monitoring and reporting role played by growers and their agronomic advisors,” said Mr Thoms.
An analysis of losses due to a range of wheat diseases in Australia estimates that the annual value of control strategies for stem, stripe and leaf rust is $124m, $139m and $26m respectively.
Individual crop losses are also staggering, with estimates of crop losses varying from 30 per cent in leaf rust susceptible cultivars to 55 per cent in wheats susceptible to both stem and leaf rust. A widespread leaf rust epidemic in Western Australia in 1992 caused yield losses of up to 37 per cent in susceptible cultivars with average losses of 15 per cent across many paddocks.
PHA’s CEO, Mr Greg Fraser, said there is an enormous range of other diseases and insects that will live and prey on so-called ‘bridge plants’ – such as summer crops, volunteer cereals and weeds. These plants enable the pests and diseases to survive through the summer and autumn period to re-emerge as threats in the following winter and spring.
“This happens in all plant industries, from tropical fruits, field crops and pastures to winter vegetables. And for every industry, the principles of good biosecurity are the same,” said Mr Fraser.
Heightened monitoring is an imperative for the next few months. It is very much about ‘spotting anything unusual’, and taking appropriate actions. The movement of people and products also poses biosecurity risks.
If you see anything unusual on your property call:
• the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888
• the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.
Calls to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline or the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline are forwarded to an experienced person in each state or territory. Every report will be checked out and treated confidentially.
If you suspect you have found an exotic pest, these precautions should be taken:
• do not allow movement of people and equipment near the affected area
• wash hands, clothes and boots that have been in contact with affected livestock, plant material or soil
• do not touch, move or transport affected plant material without seeking expert advice.