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Strengthening biosecurity protections a constant priority for GPA

Biosecurity is front and centre of a national conversation right now, thanks to the recent incursion of varroa mite that’s affecting the honey and pollination sectors, and the real threat of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) arriving from Indonesia, which could cause social and economic devastation in Australia.

Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) has also been detected near Australia and livestock producers are being urged to be prepared, vigilant and on the lookout for both of these diseases.

Australian grain producers are also watching these situations closely and operating their farming businesses with heightened biosecurity awareness.

In the latest episode of the GPA Farms Advice Podcast series, host Jack Cresswell opens up a timely and wide-ranging conversation about biosecurity.

Jack shares the microphone with Agriculture Victoria Grains Industry Biosecurity Officer Jim Moran, Plant Health Australia National Manager Preparedness and RD&E Stuart Kearns and GPA Chief Executive Colin Bettles.

Jack’s three guests explain the vital roles played by their organisations and how they collaborate across industries and governments on biosecurity prevention and preparedness, working with shared responsibilities to help safeguard Australian grain producers.

Stuart says biosecurity is best described as the measures and strategies put in place to prevent the introduction and spread of new pests and diseases into Australia.

“Why is it important?” he asks. “The grains industry currently spends about $5 billion annually controlling weeds, pests and diseases. We’re seeing a spike in (chemical) prices at the moment. We don’t need any more pests and diseases to come in that’s going to increase that cost.”

Stuart says the first step is to identify the pests and diseases that would be most damaging and stop them from leaving their country of origin or detect them at the Australian border.

The aim is to then detect those that do get through – by wind or on hosts – early enough to be able to eradicate them.

That’s where the GPA-funded network of Grains Industry Biosecurity Officers in each state, which includes Jim, is involved.

“A lot of the measures we promote are behavioural, they’re not actually costly,” Jim says. “It’s things like rigorous and regular surveillance for early detection. There’s also being informed with the latest fact sheets and manuals that we distribute.”

Jim says farmers also can carry out self-assessments and do online training to make sure they’re aware of biosecurity risks and put practices in place to stop the spread of existing pests, weeds and diseases.

These include controlling the movement of people, vehicles and machinery, and ensuring they’re clean before they come onto a property and don’t have any unwanted hitchhikers attached, he says.

Successfully repelling exotic invaders for decades

The plant industry deals with multiple incidents each year as exotic pests or diseases find new ways to bypass Australia’s borders.

Stuart says recent incidents of note include the fall armyworm which arrived in northern Australia in 2020 and rapidly spread.

“But each year, it retracts back to the north, just because it doesn’t like the cold,” he said. “We’ve also seen a number of incidents and interceptions of things like Khapra beetle, that are coming through nonregulated pathways.”

Rather than being brought in on imported plant goods or grain, these pests are piggybacking on cardboard packaging, fridges or highchairs – things that aren’t necessarily seen as a biosecurity risk.

“We need, not only the community, but people in rural Australia and grain growers themselves to be on the lookout for things that are unusual, things that are not quite right,” Stuart says. “If you report it we can do something about it.”

The good news is the systems and processes in place are finding most exotic pests before they can take hold in Australia.

Colin says much of that work is funded by the collection of levies on grain sales which GPA directs to Plant Health Australia.

The focus in recent years has shifted from responses to preventative measures. Among the proactive measures undertaken by the nation’s peak industry group, the GPA Biosecurity Committee – chaired by Barry Large, who is also GPA Chair and a WA grain producer – is bolstering engagement and collaboration to strengthen protections for growers.

“That allows us to bring experts along who can talk to our members about those high-level issues around biosecurity and what we need to do to advocate for better protections for growers,” Colin says. “GPA has been doing a lot of this work behind the scenes, working with people like Stuart and Jim ... to deliver pragmatic tools such as the vehicle movement toolkit.”

Resources for grain producers include:


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