Program to check for citrus diseases launched in Griffith

March 5, 2015

The Australian citrus industry has joined forces with officers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and Local Land Services (LLS) to check citrus trees in the Riverina for the presence of key biosecurity threats. It’s the first time that the citrus industry and the NSW government have worked together in this way to boost protection against serious exotic diseases that could devastate the industry.

Speaking at the launch of the program in Griffith, Stuart Pettigrew, Biosecurity Manager for Citrus Australia, said that combining the resources of industry and government is giving the best chance of protecting Australian citrus orchards from exotic diseases.

“Industry is supplying the traps for the surveillance program along with some technical and logistical support, NSW DPI is providing the diagnostics and LLS field officers are placing and collecting the traps,” Mr Pettigrew said.

“It might seem strange to be checking for diseases we don’t have in Australia, but if a serious pest such as the Asian citrus psyllid and the devastating disease it carries, huanglongbing (HLB) was to make it through border security, early detection would be vital.  The area would immediately be quarantined so that we could contain the pest and if we were fast enough to find it, we would try to eradicate it from Australia.”

Mr Pettigrew and the NSW officers will be placing traps in orchards and nurseries including some in urban areas in the Riverina for 4 weeks from early March.

Mr Pettigrew said that the officers are not expecting to find any Asian citrus psyllids, but a negative finding is in itself very useful.  “It gives us ‘evidence of absence’ which is becoming increasingly important to overseas buyers of Australian fruit,” he explained.  “It shows we’ve been checking for it.”

Alison Saunders, Manager of Biosecurity Planning and Implementation at Plant Health Australia, which manages the Citrus Industry Biosecurity Program, said that HLB is a frightening plant disease that is found in many places around the world.

“It’s a bacterial infection that affects a range of citrus plants including oranges, grapefruit, lemons and mandarins and it kills infected trees,” Ms Saunders said.

“There’s no known cure. And it’s found in many countries including the southern states of the USA, throughout Asia, in the Middle East, as well as countries close to us including Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

“It’s great to see government and industry stakeholders working together to give us the best chance of early detection.”

The surveillance activities are part of the Citrus Industry Biosecurity Project, which is funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited and jointly managed by PHA and Citrus Australia.

For more information or to request an interview call Stuart Pettigrew on 0429 936 812.