A 'proof of absence' of grain pests is increasingly being required for Australian grain exports, but it is a challenge that delivers a marketing advantage.
PHOTO: Paul Jones
To maintain access to lucrative overseas grain markets – worth up to $11 billion a year – Australia can be asked to provide evidence that exported grain is free from exotic grain pests.
Demonstrating this ‘proof of absence’ involves checking crops and harvested grain and reporting that no exotic pests were found. These checks are submitted to a national database, which, over time, builds a systematic picture of pest freedom.
Gathering proof of absence is a complex challenge because the many different types of grain grown across the country are often delivered, stored and transported thousands of kilometres before finally being shipped overseas.
Once grain leaves the farm, inspection of grain for quality and the absence of pests and diseases is routinely undertaken by the bulk-handling companies in their storage facilities and prior to export.
Working with one of Australia’s largest bulk handlers, GrainCorp, Victoria’s grains biosecurity officer Jim Moran has significantly boosted the number of ‘pest absence’ reports. “We now have GrainCorp technicians checking and reporting on harvested and stored grain at their facilities,” Mr Moran says.
GrainCorp routinely undertakes surveillance as part of its everyday business practices, checking thousands of grain samples from loads delivered to receival sites across the eastern states. The company has a nil tolerance of live insects. Any loads with insects are rejected. Laboratory observations provide further assurance of grain quality for domestic and international customers.
In Victoria, for the 2012 growing season, more than 2900 wheat and 1700 barley samples were tested and found to be free from the stored grain pests Karnal bunt and khapra beetle, both of which are present in other countries.
GrainCorp’s technical services and quality manager Pat Wilson says GrainCorp tests about 25,000 harvest samples and more than 35,000 export samples every year to ensure grain quality and also to determine the presence of quarantine pests. “This surveillance is a key tool for our customers in meeting importing countries’ biosecurity requirements.”
To support the technicians, GrainCorp distributed exotic pest fact sheets on both Karnal bunt and khapra beetle to 350 receival sites in the eastern states. These detail the pests’ peculiarities and distinguishing features, as well as describing the damage they cause, to help with identification.
Australia’s comparative freedom from grain pests provides a valuable market advantage over other grain exporting nations – an advantage worth protecting. Mr Moran says that biosecurity and the integrity of the grains export industry is a partnership that relies on everybody being alert for, and reporting, any unusual pests. The Exotic Plant Pest Hotline number is 1800 084 881.
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