THE national biosecurity manager for the nursery industry says horticulture needs to get better at identifying and dealing with potential exotic threats.
Nursery and Garden Industry Association (NGIA) national biosecurity manager, John McDonald, delivered a forthright presentation at Hort Connections 2017 in Adelaide last month where he spoke on reducing the biosecurity risk in planting material.
But he also said biosecurity was the entire horticulture supply chain's responsibility.
In presenting an extensive list of exotic pests and diseases which had entered Australia, Mr McDonald said on average Australia records between 30 - 40 plant pest incursions each year and while not all were declared, they came through multiple pathways.
He highlighted the Fire Ant incursion which various bodies had been fighting for the past 10 years as an example of the long-term implications which can result from a breach.
"The message is this; stuff is coming in and it's not going to stop," Mr McDonald said.
"There is no more varied supply chain than the production horticulture sector.
"There are real risks that exist for production nurseries but also for our clients."
Off-farm risks which were increasing biosecurity pressures included such things increased national and international travel; domestic and international migration; increasing international trade; declining government biosecurity investment; and reduced government biosecurity service delivery.
Other on-farm risks were also identified such as: sourcing of planting material; location of planting material (interstate); continuity of input supply (reliable); labour movement (domestic and international); vehicle and equipment (on and off farm movement); and management system (internal verification).
"Once upon a day you could purchase your seedlings down the road but that's not the case anymore," he said.
Mr McDonald said the spread of pests via human movement was a serious concern.
"Humans are major vectors and we don't put enough emphasis on that," he said.
"There is a reasonable amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest that Panama TR4 moved from the Northern Territory to North Queensland via labour."
"Spiralling whitefly moved from the Cape down to Cairns on people's clothes."
According to Mr McDonald, prevention gives the greatest financial return when it comes to biosecurity.
Mr McDonald presented diagrams of plant material movement for various major commercial horticulture crops, showing a complex mishmash of trails right across the country.
The nursery industry has taken on a heightened vigilance toward biosecurity in recent years.
The industry has BioSecure HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), an on-farm systems approach developed by the NGIA in partnership with Horticulture Innovation Australia using the nursery research and development levy and Australian Government funding.
The system provides guidelines for production nurseries to assess their biosecurity hazards and identify critical control points – achieved through documented procedures.
Mr McDonald said the system gives another level of certainty to growers who choose to purchase seedlings from BioSecure HACCP accredited nurseries.
He said the system was ahead of even government accreditation systems with "a lot of businesses" that are unable to meet industry best practice standard still able to trade through government standards.
"Some of the businesses we are working with are achieving significant market gains through use of BioSecure HACCP," Mr McDonald said.
"Basically our growers have to operate under 43 procedures - and maintain 26 records.
"Biosecurity should be about managing all pests and weeds and diseases, not just emergent situations.
"What we've got to do is get better at identifying and dealing with these threats."
Biosecurity front of mind for hort
BIOSECURITY awareness continues to be a hot topic within horticulture with Ausveg recently urging potato growers to develop a biosecurity plan.
It came on the back of the recent incursion of tomato-potato psyllid in Western Australia.
Ausveg national manager – science and extension, Dr Jessica Lye, said most farm biosecurity plans already contain several common practices, such as signs with contact details for the farm manager or showing visitors where to park to avoid spreading infected soil.
"However, growers should also undertake risk assessments and identify any priority areas that require further attention," Dr Lye said.
“Maintaining farm biosecurity requires ongoing action from growers, including following appropriate guidelines for vehicle and visitor movements, providing adequate training and hygiene supplies to staff and contractors, and routine crop monitoring.
“Given the potentially devastating impacts that the spread of pests could have on individual growing operations and the industry as a whole, developing a clear, consistent biosecurity plan for your farm has long-lasting benefits.”
Risks keep coming
STATISTICS from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources show startling numbers of items seized which could have presented biosecurity risks.
DAF reported that 11,579kg of legumes, 7375kg of seeds and 23,296 items of pome fruit (mainly apples) were detained at the border in 2016, all of which were increases on the previous year.
Head of biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Lyn O’Connell, said biosecurity officers screened 4.1 million international passengers last year.
"It’s a big job. Travellers need to play their part in protecting our nation," Ms O'Connell said.
“If passengers bring in an apple, even if it was given to them on an international flight, it could carry fruit fly, which could seriously damage our $556 million apple industry.
“Fruit fly could reduce market access and profits for our farmers and increase their production costs."
It is estimated that fruit fly costs Australia $300 million a year in control costs and lost markets, with losses to fruit and vegetable crop production put at $159 million a year.
The Federal Government recently announced $2.2 million across three new plant biosecurity projects.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said the projects included a trial of automated fruit fly traps; a strengthening of the fruit fly surveillance programme; and a grants program for work to prove areas are free of pests.
“Many of our trading partners require evidence of our strong biosecurity and freedom from pests and diseases to allow our produce into their country,” Mr Joyce said.
“To boost exports to these countries the Coalition Government is providing funding to Plant Health Australia to support state governments and export industries to develop further evidence of pest free areas, to support new market access requests and maintenance of existing markets.
“This work will give trading partners more evidence to be confident of claims of pest absence and area freedom.
"This makes things easier for exporters through minimising delays and allowing producers to get a better price for their quality produce overseas.”
Goulburn Valley fruit grower and packer, Peter Thompson, gave his full support to the announcement.
“Market access is critical to key export destinations like Taiwan, China and the United States. Pests limit our export markets. Working towards pest free zones will only enhance our export opportunities,” Mr Thompson said.
Mr Joyce said the funding would help strengthen the National Exotic Fruit Fly Surveillance Program, which operates at many entry points into Australia to stop exotic species entering and becoming established.
Last month, Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) celebrated securing a Federal Government grant and co-investor funding pool of $21 million for a plant biosecurity push.
The $6.8 million Rural R&D for Profit grant will complement more than $14 million in investment across the seven plant Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) and partners such as the CSIRO, universities and state government agencies.
Ausveg and Plant Health Australia are also key collaborators.