When thinking about implementing biosecurity measures on your farm, the six biosecurity essentials are a good place to start.
The actual management practices you choose will vary from site to site, depending on the size of your property(s) the infrastructure and the day-to-day management of operations.
If you are already following an accreditation scheme or industry best management practice guidelines (such as Smartcane BMP) it is likely to already include a biosecurity component.
There are many measures that you can put in place to improve biosecurity. To assist you in planning and prioritising improvements, there are Farm Biosecurity planning tools available (see Train, plan, record section below).
A map of the property should be used to consider the best places to locate biosecurity zones or checkpoints. This could include signs at entrances, parking areas near the house or site office, where deliveries are picked-up or dropped off in relation to storage facilities, vehicle wash-down areas and roads or tracks for movement within the property. Think about what you can do to minimise the risk of introducing diseases, pests and weed seeds at each of the checkpoints.
Almost anything moved onto your property can be a potential source of pests and diseases.
Monitor plant materials that enter the property, as well as sources of water (e.g. dams, drains or creeks) and fertiliser.
Ensure seeds for alternative crops and sugarcane planting material (stalks, setts, billets and tissue culture plants) are purchased from reputable sources, and that they are free of pests and diseases. Request and maintain records that state the source and testing history of planting material to allow the origin of diseases, pests or weeds to be traced.
Infected planting material is a key risk to your business. Often, you will not be able to assess the quality of planting material just by looking at it. Plants that appear to be clean and healthy may still contain pests. It is therefore essential to source planting material from accredited suppliers.
Sugarcane Productivity Services operate approved seed plots and coordinate the supply of tissue culture plants in all cane growing areas. The approved seed or tissue culture plants provide a nucleus that is multiplied on farm to supply commercial plantings. Growers should purchase this nucleus source at least every one to two years. It must be planted into fallow land to prevent contamination by pests and diseases that could spread from volunteer plants.
Where possible, only plant cane that has been ratooned twice from the nucleus source and obtained from an approved seed plot or tissue culture. All plant sources should be inspected by your Sugarcane Productivity Service.
If you have to purchase planting material from another grower, or a planting contractor offers to supply you with planting material, ask questions about where the plants or propagation material come from, and always purchase cane that has been inspected by a Sugarcane Productivity Service provider. Once planted, regularly monitor growing plants for signs of pests or disease.
Never use poor quality or diseased planting material as it has the potential to infect your entire crop.
It is also recommended that you maintain a register of propagation material. Record information like the variety, crop class, the purchase date, the source of planting material used in each block, the area planted, and the block where the material was planted (paddock, date, etc.)
Recommended varieties of cane
The Australian sugar industry relies on using sugarcane varieties that are resistant to disease. It is vital that all producers adhere to this strategy to protect individual crops and the industry in a region.
Follow the recommendations at QCANESelect, but double check your options with Productivity Services staff. Through the Regional Variety Approval Committees, Sugar Research Australia works closely with regional growers, Productivity Services and mill representatives to ensure that varieties are available that have good levels of resistance to the diseases in your area.
The varieties listed meet the requirements for minimising risks of disease and pest epidemics in each region. Every year the list is reviewed and new varieties are added.
Using only approved sugarcane varieties is a way to meet your general biosecurity obligation or duty under state legislation and assist in the prevention of a disease epidemic.
Since sugarcane is a perennial crop an epidemic could have serious long-term economic consequences for a district. In the event of a disease outbreak the industry cannot quickly replace susceptible varieties with resistant varieties. More information about recommended varieties is at sugarresearch.com.au
Use certified fertiliser
Fertilisers are another input that can potentially introduce diseases, pests and weeds to your farm. Organic fertilisers such as manure and compost can be a source of weeds if they are not composted thoroughly.
Reduce the risk of purchasing contaminated or non-compliant fertiliser by ensuring that the supplier is following the Fertilizer Industry Federation of Australia Purchasing Code of Practice, or has equivalent quality controls in place. See fertilizer.org.au for more information.
Keeping records of inputs and outputs is an essential part of good farm biosecurity.
Look for compliance with the Australian Standard AS4454 2012 that applies to compost, soil conditioners and mulches. Here are a few things you can do to secure your farm against the biosecurity risks associated with the use of compost:
Ask suppliers for testing history or assurances of quality.
Keep a record of when batches were used on your farm and where they were applied.
Regularly check the area for signs of new pests, diseases or weeds.
If you are making your own compost, don’t include source material that you know comes from diseased plants or animals.
It is also recommended that producers record the source of organic fertilisers, delivery and application dates so that any problems can be traced back to the origin.
People, vehicles and equipment
People, vehicles and machinery can carry pests and weeds onto and around your farm. Simple procedures can reduce this risk.
Pests and weeds can be spread in soil and on plant material that adheres to vehicles, equipment, footwear and clothing. For this reason, anyone visiting your farm and any vehicles, equipment or machinery coming on to the property poses a potential biosecurity threat that can and should be managed.
Control people movement
Controlling and limiting access to production areas is a simple way to minimise biosecurity risks.
Although fences are not common practice in sugarcane production, ideally, there should be only one access point to the property. This minimises potential entry points for new pests and weeds and makes it easier for you to monitor and control visits.
Provide a designated parking area away from production areas and ask all visitors to let you know when they arrive. Anyone who travels from farm to farm and region to region is an increased biosecurity risk to your property. This could include farm contractors, itinerant workers, earthmoving companies, employees of utility providers, research personnel, consultants, mining operators, and rail and road workers.
Get into the habit of doing a visitor risk assessment by asking them a few simple questions about their day, and where they have been recently to decide what kind of risk they might pose.
If you cannot reduce the risk by providing cleaning equipment or alternative clothing or footwear, it’s okay to refuse access to parts of your property.
Ask all visitors to stick to paths and designated roadways as much as possible when moving around the farm.
Clean clothes and boots
Since weed seeds and pathogens like rusts can enter on people’s footwear and clothing, it helps to have a clean clothes and boots policy for employees and visitors.
Provide scrubbing brushes and footbaths for people arriving with muddy boots, or give them rubber boots to wear in your production areas.
Boots and equipment should also be cleaned when people leave your farm.
Boot covers and protective clothing should also be used in any areas of the property that you know to be contaminated with a notifiable or declared pest or weed.
Make sure that hygiene supplies are available for use where appropriate (e.g. hand sanitiser, gloves, disinfectant foot baths, scrubbing brushes and disposable overalls).
People who have recently returned from overseas pose more potential risk than others, if they have been in regions that have exotic pests. Make sure that they have clean footwear and clothes before entering the farm.
Biosecurity signs like this one help to control movement onto and around your property. Signs at the main entrance to your property alert visitors to the need to comply with the measures you have in place. Other signs can show visitors where to park and where to clean down their vehicle or equipment, if needed.
Inform visitors of your biosecurity requirements
Make sure that staff, guests, regular visitors, and anyone entering your property knows about your biosecurity requirements. Parking restrictions will limit any problems posed by their vehicles.
Make sure workers know about any biosecurity risks in the region or issues on the property. They should also be familiar with everyday pests on the property and know how to report anything unusual.
If you hold a field day or equipment demonstrations on your farm, clearly indicate any entry requirements and be especially careful in checking for new pests and diseases afterwards.
Keep a record of visitors
It is good practice to maintain a visitor register to document who has been on your property, where they have come from, and where they are going on the farm, and after they leave. A template for a visitor register is here.
Visitor or contractor records are useful tools in the event of an incursion because they can allow investigators to trace the origin and spread of a pest or disease.
You can provide this information to visitors when they sign in, or leave copies near entrance gates to help raise awareness of farm hygiene.
Reduce risks posed by vehicles
It is impractical to stop all vehicle movement onto and around the property, but there are steps you can take to minimise the risks that they pose.
Best practice is to make sure that all vehicles are either restricted to a designated parking area or cleaned before entering production areas. Having a parking area on the property allows you to inspect a vehicle and decide what, if any, action you need to take.
Whenever possible, use dedicated farm vehicles to move through production areas. Those vehicles should not leave the farm. Otherwise provide a wash-down facility to clean vehicles before allowing them access to production areas.
Reduce the risks posed by machinery and equipment
Any machinery coming onto your property poses a risk of spreading pests and weed seeds. This is particularly the case with contractors involved in harvesting, planting or fertilising sugarcane or other crops.
Billets left in a billet planter, harvester or haul-out bin could be infected with diseases like ratoon stunting disease, leaf scald or Fiji leaf gall. If these billets are planted on your farm, they could introduce or spread these and other diseases around your property.
Providing a suitable wash-down facility away from production areas is a good way of assisting people to comply with requests to clean machinery.
You have the right to ask contractors to clean machinery before entering and leaving your farm. Another alternative is to only engage contractors who are signatories to an industry-recommended hygiene protocol or program.
To ensure that your property does not become a source of pests for others, you have a responsibility to inform visitors of any declared or notifiable pests present on your farm, such as Fiji leaf gall, to prevent spread.
Wash and disinfect all planting equipment including harvesters, cane knives, whole-stalk cane cutters, planters and haul-out bins.
Always cut and plant the cane with machinery that has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
All vehicles and equipment that need to enter production areas can be cleaned more easily using high pressure water or compressed air.
Locate a wash-down area between the driveway and farm roads, and away from production areas. A sealed (concrete or bitumen) surface or a pad of packed gravel is ideal, with a sump to collect waste water and debris. Make sure mud, soil and plant material are kept away from crops, storage areas and waterways.
Inspect the area around the wash-down facility regularly for the presence of pests or weeds, and treat as required.
The wash-down area may be the same as that used for chemical wash-down of vehicles and equipment. If so, all occupational health and safety issues associated with chemical wash- down areas must be taken into account.
An on-farm wash down facility can also be used to clean machinery before moving between Queensland Sugar Cane Biosecurity Zones, however the machine will still need an inspector’s approval first.
You can reduce the risk of spreading pests and diseases by using simple biosecurity measures as part of your everyday farm management practice.
Importance of early detection
Monitoring the health of your crop is a fundamental part of farm management and gives the best chance of spotting a new pest soon after it arrives. You, your workers, Productivity Services, contractors or consultants should be looking over your farm on a regular basis.
Finding a new pest or disease on your property early gives you the best chance of controlling it.
Pay particular attention to high risk areas where pests are most likely to enter and establish on your property such as cane loading areas (sidings or pads), near wash-down areas, and along public roads, creeks, drainage lines and railways.
Fallow areas should also be monitored for signs of new weeds, or volunteer plants that can shelter pests between cane growing periods.
Record the results of monitoring activity
Surveillance involves looking for pests and diseases, any symptoms, or plant health issues on your farm, and recording their presence and population levels, or their absence. In addition to assisting with farm management, pest surveillance is important for maintaining the biosecurity status of the Australian sugar industry.
An example of a pest surveillance record sheet is here. Recording the absence of pests is just as important as recording what you do see.
Learn about exotic pests
Pest surveillance increases the chances that a new pest is detected early enough to be contained and eradicated. A new pest on your farm might also be new to the region or even the country.
To increase the chances of early detection, make yourself familiar with existing pests and the exotic pests that pose the greatest risk to the Australian sugarcane industry.
The Sugarcane pests page provides information and links to fact sheets about exotic pests and some significant established pests and weeds, showing what they look like or the symptoms that they cause.
Report unusual pests and diseases
Prompt reporting of new pests is vital to minimise the long-term impact of exotic pests on your farm and the sugarcane industry as a whole. While Australia has one of the strictest border control systems in the world, there is always the chance that an exotic pest will make it into the country.
The number of passenger arrivals and imported goods continues to increase so a serious exotic pest of the sugarcane industry could be a few hours’ flight away. There is also a constant risk of sugarcane pests and diseases moving by natural means from Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait south into production regions.
In addition to the general biosecurity obligations, growers have a legal responsibility to report suspect pests because the sugarcane industry is a signatory to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed.
What to do if you think a pest or disease is exotic
If you find a pest that you think might be exotic, take the following precautions to contain the pest and protect other parts of your farm:
Mark the site where you saw the pest and limit access to the area.
Do not touch, move, or transport affected plant material. Take a photo of the pest or disease symptoms instead.
Wash hands, clothes and footwear that have been in contact with affected plant material or soil.
Without delay, call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881, report it to your state or territory department of agriculture, or speak to your local Productivity Services, agronomist or SRA staff.
Restrict the movement of people, animals and equipment near the affected area.
Restrict operations in the area while waiting for identification.
Incorrect handling could spread the pest further or make the samples unfit for diagnosis so always speak to an expert before taking a sample.
Fencing and property cleanliness
Secure boundary fences make it easier to control the movement of people, vehicles and equipment onto and around your property, minimising the risk of diseases, pests and weeds from entering and becoming established.
While fences are not common in cane production areas they will limit access by wild or feral animals that can carry pests and weed seeds. Feral pigs, for example, can pick up sugarcane pests and diseases while foraging elsewhere and carry them onto your property in the soil and mud attached to them. Feral pigs are also a problem because they can carry human diseases like brucellosis, Q fever and leptospirosis.
Ensure all personnel working on farm are appropriately vaccinated (e.g. Q fever).
Rubbish dumps can attract pests or wild animals that carry diseases onto your property, so remove or contain anything that is likely to attract them.
Inappropriate or persistent use of chemicals may lead to insects and weeds becoming resistant, making control difficult. This can cause more widespread and ongoing biosecurity problems. Follow the instructions on the label and observe withholding periods. Seek training in agvet chemical use (e.g. AusChem or ChemCert™).
Keep a record, for example a spray diary, of chemical treatments used, application rates and weather conditions.
Report a ‘resistant’ variety that is heavily infected
Sugarcane varieties that are rated as ‘resistant’ to particular pathogens can become sensitive to that pathogen over time. It might be that the pathogen has evolved to overcome plant resistance, or it could be a new strain that has entered Australia. An example of this was the outbreak of orange rust in Q124 in 2000.
Varieties that are rated as resistant may include a few plants that can be infected. But if a resistant variety becomes widely infected with a disease, you should report it immediately.
Responsibility for biosecurity does not end when your crop leaves your property. The measures in place on your farm support biosecurity in your region.
Maintain good farm hygiene
Maintaining good hygiene practices on farm can help to minimise the spread of pests onto and around your farm. In addition to cleaning machinery before it is used on your property (described earlier), it is also important to clean machinery before it leaves your property.
Harvest practices recommended in Smartcane BMP to minimise cane loss also minimise the risk of infestations of pests.
There is a risk of spreading pests and diseases after harvest, when moving harvesters between blocks and farms, during transport to the mill or through burning. After harvest, sugarcane is transported from the farm directly to the sugar mill in bins carried by trucks or by sugar mill cane railways. Some pests or weeds can be spread in the process.
It is difficult to minimise the biosecurity risks of transport to the mill but producers are advised to consider their options, particularly in the event of a specific local pest incursion.
Although green harvest and trash blanketing of harvested fields is common practice, some farmers still burn sugarcane before harvest for irrigation or crop agronomy reasons. While burning can reduce the risk of spread of some pests and diseases during transport, the updraft in front of a fire can launch spores of a disease on thermal winds, increasing the risk of spread.
Feral animals and weeds
Wild and feral animals pose a risk to your property through direct impact on production and potentially carrying diseases, pests and weed seeds onto and around your property. Vermin like rats can damage crops, spread diseases and contaminate water sources. Rat management not only reduces loss of yield; it also reduces the risk of cane deterioration caused by rat damaged stalks.
Weed species are significant biosecurity problems in their own right, as well as being alternative hosts for some pests and diseases. The measures recommended to protect your crop from pests and diseases also work to prevent the entry of new types of weeds.
Wild and feral animal access
To protect the health of your crops, and to prevent damage to cropping land, it is important to minimise the risks associated with wild and feral animals.
Develop an integrated wild and feral animal control program.
Protect water sources.
Regularly check and mend any broken fences.
Ensure farm buildings are in good repair.
Dispose of any animal carcasses properly and promptly.
Work with neighbours and other producers in your local area to implement a coordinated approach to animal management.
Volunteer plants and weeds
Volunteer plants and weeds in production areas can create a ‘green bridge’ which can harbour pests or diseases between seasons. Pests then have the potential to cause early re-infection of the next crop.
Ensure that crop destruction and follow-up controls remove all volunteers in paddocks. Control volunteers and weeds in other areas, such as roadways and head ditches. Establish a weed management plan for your property, including plans to eradicate, contain or manage current weeds on your property, and to prevent the introduction of new ones.
You are likely to need a combination of practices to manage existing weeds, including herbicides and cultural practices like trash blanketing, strategic tillage, and farm hygiene.
Property and land damage
Fires, floods and storms can often provide an opportunity for pests and weeds to become established, and for animals to come onto your property.
To ensure this does not become an issue, regularly inspect your property for the presence of diseases, pests, weeds and ferals, particularly areas that have been recently landscaped (e.g. new roads or dams) or damaged in storms (e.g. fences). For example, keep an eye out for new weeds in the areas where flood waters may have run across your land from neighbouring properties.
Train, plan and record
An important part of farm biosecurity, and also of managing your business, is ensuring staff are well trained, that you have the ability to trace where planting material came from, and that you have records of purchases, sales and movements.
An on-farm biosecurity plan will help you prioritise the implementation of biosecurity practices relevant to your property.
There’s also a free smartphone app called FarmBiosecurity, available from the App Store and Google Play.
To make your biosecurity plan using FarmBiosecurity, simply select the actions that apply to you from the suggestions, or type in your own actions. Your selections become a to-do list that you can share with others. You can attach photos as reminders or to let others know what needs to be done.
If you have multiple properties or sites, that’s not a problem. You can add as many as you like. Devise a plan for your property, prioritise actions, and update the implementation table as you achieve goals.
Completing a biosecurity checklist will also help identify biosecurity strengths and weaknesses to minimise the risks of introducing diseases, pests and weed seeds at each point.
If you build your plan around daily, monthly or yearly farm routines, then biosecurity should become a habit.
Anyone working on your property (including friends, family and contractors) may not know how easily diseases, pests and weeds can spread and how to prevent this from happening. Inform staff of the biosecurity standards required on site, and provide training if necessary. Have signs to remind staff of the importance of biosecurity.
Make sure that your staff keep a lookout for unusual pests. In particular, make sure that they can recognise established and key exotic pests, and that they know how to report them.
In the event of a biosecurity emergency, valuable time can be lost trying to determine how far the disease or pest may have spread. Sound record keeping can speed up this process and prevent the spread of the disease or pest.
It is important to keep records of the sources of all inputs. In addition to fertiliser, record the sources of planting material and contractor machinery as well as where products and other material are shipped to (e.g. where bailed trash is sold).
Smartcane BMP mobile app
The Smartcane BMP app allows you to collect and upload farm records using your mobile phone. Working through the menus you can add blocks, and record treatments used on the blocks. The app links directly to the Smartcane BMP platform and automatically updates the growers’ records within the system.
The Smartcane BMP app is free to registered Smartcane BMP growers. The Smartcane BMP app can be downloaded now from Google Play for Android and the iTunes App store for Apple by searching for ‘smartcane records’.