National unity on introduced pests, diseases

Karnel bunt.

TO PROTECT graingrowers from exotic pests and diseases, the grain industry has begun working with Plant Health Australia (PHA) to put in place a nationwide industry biosecurity plan.

Supported by the Grains Council of Australia, the Commonwealth Government, and the GRDC, three 'industry biosecurity' steering committees have been established in the three grains regions. On the committees are leading grain and biosecurity experts from industry, Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Australia, state government departments of agriculture, the GRDC and universities.

Andrew Tomkins, from the NSW Department of Agriculture, believes the current drought has heightened the risk of exotic plant pest incursions, but he is confident PHA's planning process will heighten Australia's preparedness.

Jeff Arney, chair of the southern region committee, who is also the South Australian Grains Council chairman, believes key exotic plant pests and diseases must be identified as soon as possible. "This is a huge opportunity to get all the key players involved and to act

quickly. An international focus is vital because there are several pests, in particular rusts and karnal bunt (pictured above), which are rampant in countries such as Mexico, which have similar environments to Australia.

"Any exotic pests from these countries could have an enormous impact on our plant industry. "

According to Peter Gibson, Chief Crop Scientist with South Australia's Research and Development Institute, a nationally consistent protocol is necessary so all incursions are handled the same way.

"The current system wastes time, money and resources due to the need to replicate tests for every incursion in each state. These plans have been a long time coming.

We need to know things such as: Who is to be involved? Will we eradicate or contain the outbreak? Hopefully, the Industry Biosecurity Planning Guidelines will address all these outstanding issues, " he said.

The three regional steering committees have held their first meeting with the final one conducted in Canberra in late October. A senior member of the grain industry has been elected as chairperson for each steering committee. Mr Arney (southern region), joins graingrowers John Agnew (northern region) and Ron Creagh (western region).

Development stages of the khapra beetle. From left to right: egg (not to scale), final life stage after  instarlarva, pupa in skin of final instar and adult beetle about to escape from the cuticle of pupa.

Phase one of the industry biosecurity planning process, expected to be completed early next year, will involve the development of industry-specific threat summary tables. These tables will prioritise threats.

Phase two will develop more detailed pest risk assessment based on the tables.

Phase three will implement strategies to manage and minimise those threats, while phase four will develop contingency plans and response management procedures to deal with the threats.

Quarterly updates on the progress of the national grains biosecurity plan will be made public from now on, while more information on the program's development can also be found by visiting: or contacting Simon McKirdy at