Plant Disease Network

A new national plant disease health body, to work on issues such as plant diagnostic networks, is being set up by plant industries and government.

The new corporation, Plant Health Australia (PHA), will be established by March 2000 according to Australia's Chief Plant Protection Officer, Bill Roberts. He made the announcement at the recent conference of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society in Canberra, which was supported by growers through the GRDC.

The new corporation would be owned by industry, as well as by the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.

Dr Roberts said it was likely to have an annual budget of about $1.5 million. Besides plant-disease diagnostic work it would build a national database including plant pests and diseases, support surveillance and awareness programs, and develop a 'framework for compensation'.

"Currently, if an exotic disease or pest is found, the affected property or properties is placed under quarantine," Dr Roberts said. "This can affect people's livelihoods. Often they are innocent bystanders who have had no direct role in the arrival of the pest or disease.

"Since there is no compensation currently, this can be a strong incentive not to report a problem." Moves to establish PHA have been welcomed by senior research scientist, plant pathology, with NSW Agriculture, Gordon Murray, who sees it as a positive step in addressing current deficiencies.

"Russian wheat aphid, karnal bunt and stripe rust in barley are examples of exotic diseases for which contingency plans should be developed."

Dr Murray agrees that the plant pathogens are many and varied but wants their risk to Australian agriculture identified and prioritised.

"The keys to remedial action are awareness and detection, and the earlier you can detect, the better," Dr Murray said.

"There are a limited number of plant pathologists, so we have to rely on others to send in samples of plants with unusual symptoms. This is working well with the control of lupin anthracnose in NSW."

Contact: Dr Gordon Murray 02 6938 1999, Dr Bill Roberts 02 6249 4051, Ms Jan Murray 02 4577 6285