Coordinated national strategy to protect crops from pests and diseases

New Australian biosecurity surveillance program put in place for pests

Plant Health Australia's Stuart Kearns has led the development of a National Grains Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy. PHOTO GRDC

Plant Health Australia's Stuart Kearns has led the development of a National Grains Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy. PHOTO GRDC


National grains industry takes moves to strengthen its protection against exotic pests and diseases


The Australian grains industry is a step closer to being better protected from exotic pests and diseases with the recent development of a National Grains Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy.

With global trade and travel increasing, we can no longer rely on Australia's geographical isolation to protect the industry from these pests and diseases.

Australia has a comprehensive plant biosecurity system in place that includes offshore activities, such as:

  • risk analysis and import permit assessments;
  • monitoring and inspections at the border; and
  • surveillance and diagnostics within Australia.

Biosecurity surveillance is an essential component of this system, providing not only early warning of new and emerging threats, but also the data needed to prove to our trading partners that we are free of specific pests to gain access to overseas markets.

Need for coordination

Growers, advisers, agribusiness, research staff and bulk handlers all undertake a significant amount of general surveillance - such as crop monitoring, paddock inspections and stored grain testing - through their day-to-day activities in crop management, research and development, and the management of stored grain.

Despite this breadth of activity, it is not conducted in a consistent or coordinated manner - which would allow analysis for the purposes of early detection or market access.

Plant Health Australia and Grain Producers Australia have now developed a National Grains Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy for the industry to guide the implementation of national leadership, management and coordination arrangements for surveillance activities on the priority grain pests and diseases of concern to the industry.

Stuart Kearns, national manager preparedness and RD&E at Plant Health Australia, led the development of the strategy.

"Given not only the significant number of grain pest threats and increasing volume of trade and tourism, but also the frequency and diversity of grain crops grown, the large number of stakeholders involved and the potential for spillover benefits to other plant industries, we can no longer afford not to have an innovative, coordinated and responsive long-term national grain surveillance program that is guided and directed by a relevant strategy," Mr Kearns says.

Please mind the gaps

Prior to developing the strategy, a stocktake and gap analysiswas conducted that identified the following areas of focus for grain biosecurity:

  • Industry value and biosecurity risks throughout the production and supply chains are not well understood in order to focus surveillance efforts.
  • Likely economic impact and establishment potential of high-priority pests are not specifically described to objectively inform pest prioritisation.
  • Industry strategies to enhance market access to continue to protect and grow the industry's international competitiveness are inadequate.
  • There is little coordination or integration of monitoring and testing throughout the supply chain to ensure it is efficient and effective and allows the ongoing access to proof of area freedom.
  • Surveillance activities undertaken within industry-funded programs are not coordinated, integrated or nationally consistent.
  • Risk pathways are not consistently identified, prioritised, mapped or monitored to maximise confidence in early detection.
  • Surveillance protocols are not being utilised to ensure consistency and confidence of early detection.
  • Growers, agribusiness and the supply chain are undertaking significant crop monitoring, paddock inspections and stored grain testing activities for both exotic and established pests, but these activities are not consistent or coordinated.
  • Current diagnostic services are not offered or conducted consistently for the reliable, timely and accurate diagnosis and reporting of plant pests and diseases.

"When we were developing the strategy it quickly became clear that we needed to strengthen Australia's ability to detect priority pests of concern to the grain industry and increase responsiveness to new and emerging grain biosecurity issues," Mr Kearns says.

"We also found that the strategy needed to be robust yet flexible enough to adapt to emerging technologies and industry structures outside that of government and be underpinned by core diagnostic capacity."

Key platforms

In the strategy, five fundamental actions are identified as essential underlying requirements of a national grain biosecurity surveillance program. They are:

  • Prioritising target pests and pathways following detailed economic analysis.
  • Developing surveillance protocols to ensure consistency and statistical rigour.
  • Implementing data standards and reporting protocols to allow for the accurate and consistent collection of data to inform decisions.
  • Continuing industry's general surveillance.
  • Delivering training and awareness activities.

Mr Kearns says an implementation plan for the strategy is currently in development.

"The strategy's implementation will require strong stakeholder partnerships, robust governance and a sustainable and equitable funding model, and through the implementation plan we hope to address these issues," he says.

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