New biosecurity collaboration to protect Australian citrus industry

Australia’s $900 million citrus industry could face serious production and market access risks if the industry is not adequately prepared to manage future biosecurity threats.

A new five-year national biosecurity program, CitrusWatch, is a collaborative effort that is designed to protect the citrus industry from harmful exotic pests and diseases such as Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) and huánglóngbìng (HLB).

CitrusWatch is funded by Hort Innovation, using the citrus research and development levy, the Plant Health Australia (PHA) biosecurity levy and contributions from the Australian Government.  The Northern Territory Government’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (the department) and research group, Cesar Australia, will provide surveillance, communication and research support.

Led by PHA, with activities coordinated by Citrus Australia, the program aims to expand surveillance, conduct industry training, lead risk assessment and modelling, and improve governance and collaboration.

“CitrusWatch is designed to bolster surveillance mechanisms and increase expertise to quickly detect, identify, and address incursions of high priority pests,” said Dr Sharyn Taylor, National Manager Surveillance and Diagnostics at PHA.

Early detection of an exotic pest means taking early containment or eradication action during an incursion. A strong collaboration of industry, government and the community set a new standard in successfully eradicating citrus canker from the Northern Territory and north-west Western Australia. Australia was declared citrus canker free within three years of first detecting the disease.

“CitrusWatch will further build and protect this partnership approach,” said Dr Taylor.

The Northern Territory Government’s Chief Plant Health Officer, Dr Anne Walters, said the department is looking forward to utilising existing relationships across northern Australia to deliver the five-year project.

“Building on our learnings from the recent citrus canker eradication and odour detection programs will enable us to develop more effective and robust approaches to identify and target high priority pests. We are particularly excited about the opportunity to engage with industry and the community to extend our surveillance network and improve awareness of biosecurity more broadly,” said Dr Walters.

The Australian citrus industry is a large and vibrant horticultural industry, with over 28,000 hectares of citrus planted by around 1,400 growers. Oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruit and tangelos are grown in most states and territories.

“Australian citrus is a mature export industry with access to most major markets around the world,” said Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock.“An exotic pest or disease incursion could shut the industry down overnight. We have a strong focus on staying disease and pest free to maintain access to world markets and support our growers,” he said.

CitrusWatch’s holistic surveillance approach will not only include commercial production areas, but also, high-density, high-risk, urban and peri-urban regions throughout Australia, to support both an industry and community early detection network.

As part of the program, the Biosecurity Plan for the Citrus Industry (Version 3, PHA 2015), will be reviewed and updated. Modelling the Asian citrus psyllid risk of entry, spread and establishment based on available biological and climatic data, will also be an important program activity.

Message from the CEO December 2021

Despite recent flood and rain damage in the eastern states bringing heartbreak to some producers so close to harvest, the gross production value for crop growers is forecast to reach a record-breaking $78 billion – $5.4 billion more than predicted just a few months ago. Similarly, the value of agricultural exports is forecast to hit a record $61 billion. These are welcome figures for Australian producers who have been faced with drought, fires, floods, plagues, and the trade impacts of COVID-19 over the past two years. However, we need to remain vigilant with many plant diseases at our doorstep that could rapidly derail these promising results.

After experiencing one of the wettest Novembers in two decades, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology declared a La Niña event earlier this month with above average summer rainfall expected across most of northern and eastern Australia. Although La Niña is variable, it is encouraging news for those regions who have experienced years of ongoing drought. As our continent soaks up this beautiful rain replenishing water storage above and below ground, it will also bring with it a flourish of life in the form of weeds, pests and disease that can have significant impact to production.

In PHA news, we are excited to announce three new projects that will continue our work to minimise plant pest impacts, boost productivity and profitability for our plant industries.

CitrusWatch is a new five-year national biosecurity program; designed to protect the citrus industry from harmful exotic pests and diseases such as Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) and huánglóngbìng (HLB).

A new three-year National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP), funded via Hort Innovation from levies of pollination reliant industries, will build on the success of previous work and will continue to monitor high-risk ports for honey bee pests that threaten the Australian honey bee industry.

With the conclusion of Phase 3 (2018 – 2021) of the National Fruit Fly Council this month, we are working with our partners to secure funding for Phase 4 of the project over the next five-years. Read about the key activities delivered during Phase 3 below.

Our member meetings (AGM, Member Forum, Plant Industry Form (PIF), EPPRD signatories and AHA/PHA Joint Industry Forum) were held virtually last month. At the PIF, we welcomed Nathan Hancock CEO of Citrus Australia as the new Chairperson of the committee as well as Zarmeen Hassan (National Manager, Engagement and Extension, AUSVEG) and Rose Daniel (Technical Manager APAL) who have joined Anna Hooper (Manager, Industry Policy, Australian Grape and Wine) and Jenny Treeby (Industry Development Manager, Australian Table Grape Association). I look forward to working with the PIF in 2022 to progress national biosecurity outcomes across our plant industries and there is still room available on the committee to ensure we have a good cross section of our industries represented.

We also launched our new Strategic Plan 2022 –27 setting PHA’s direction for the next five years at our Members meeting. The new Strategic Plan considers the challenges and opportunities that may present in the near future and outlines our plan to improve Australia’s ability to identify and detect threats. The three pillars of our new strategy are responding effectively, strengthening partnerships, and enhancing integration. A copy of our new Strategic Plan 2022-27 is available for download on our website.

Earlier this month we launched three revamped courses on our Biosecurity Online Training platform. The free online courses, Plant Biosecurity in Australia, Pest Reporting and Responses (for Growers and Researchers) offer greater interactivity to enhance the online learning experience. Information on how to register is available on our website.

As we look ahead to 2022, the Australian Biosecurity Symposium has secured Dr Norman Swan, one of Australia’s most well-respected health journalists, to deliver the keynote speech. The abstract submission deadline has been extended to 28 January 2022 and we encourage anyone who are inspired to influence the direction of Australia’s future biosecurity system, who want to share research and innovation, or explore outside-of-the-box thinking and engage in challenging discussions, to submit their work.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our members, stakeholders and staff for their steadfast support during a challenging, yet productive year and wish you all a happy festive season and well-deserved break. PHA will be closing for the holidays from close of business on 24 December 2021 and will reopen on Tuesday, 4 January 2022. We look forward to working with and supporting you in 2022.

Sarah Corcoran
CEO, Plant Health Australia

PHA Board meeting 105

The Plant Health Australia (PHA) Board met virtually on Monday 29 November 2021, for Board Meeting 105.

Dr Simon McKirdy attended the first Board meeting following his appointment as a Director at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Tuesday 23 November 2021. Kim Halbert and Doug Philips were also in attendance having been reappointed as Directors at the AGM.

First on the agenda was the appointment of PHA’s Chairperson for the next two years, and Steve McCutcheon was reappointed, with Dr Joanne Daly taking on the role of Deputy Chairperson for one year.

Discussions focused on the recent release of plant biosecurity strategies and plans, including PHA’s Strategic Plan 2022-2027, and progress on the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy (NPBS) 2021-2031. Other items of note included:

  • a progress report on the portfolio of digital systems administered by PHA
  • the signing of the new PHA/AHA Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
  • a review of financial reports and audits, risk mitigation plans and strategies and other internal policies.

Operational reports presented PHA’s Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) management and compliance, including PHA’s revamped free online training courses and the number of open incidents and current response plans including mango shoot looper and khapra beetle. Membership applications, a 2022 PHA member satisfaction survey, and assessing the implementation of the 2022-2027 PHA strategy was also discussed.

In other business, the Board welcomed the appointment of Nathan Hancock as Chairperson of the Plant Industry Forum (PIF).

The next Board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 2 March 2022 in Brisbane, Queensland.

New surveillance project to monitor honey bee pests


Hort Innovation and Plant Health Australia (PHA) are proud to announce a new three-year National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP). Funded by Hort Innovation, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Grains Producers Australia (GPA), in collaboration with state and territory governments, the program will continue to monitor for honey bee pests that threaten the Australian honey bee industry.

Honey bees are critical for the production of many crops, pollinating around 65 per cent of agricultural and horticultural crops in Australia. Their contribution to the Australian economy through pollination services and products is estimated to be $14.3 billion per annum. The almond and grains industries both rely on honey bees for production, with the almond industry relying exclusively on honey bees for pollination.

“Access to healthy honey bees is critical for our industry in pollinating our crop each year. It is important we do whatever we can to protect our bees and the apiary businesses that support us from exotic pests and diseases,” said Deidre Jaensch, Industry Development Manager at Almond Board of Australia.

GPA Chair and Western Australian grain producer, Barry Large, said the Surveillance Program, was essential to helping protect the profitability and sustainability of Australian grain producers.

“Bee pollination plays a vital part in our $13 billion industry; especially contributing to yield increases for grain producers who grow canola and lupin crops,” he said.

“GPA is proud to support this initiative as part of our national role working with PHA, governments and other stakeholders to enhance the strength of our biosecurity systems and safeguard Australian grain producers.”

Eleven exotic pests that could pose a significant threat to pollination services have been identified. Arguably the most important of these is Varroa mite, a parasitic mite present in Europe, North and South America, Africa, parts of Asia and New Zealand that has contributed to the collapse of honey bee industries in these regions.

Although Australia is free from Varroa and other significant honey bee pests, with strong border biosecurity in place, there is constant pressure on the biosecurity system to maintain this freedom. This is largely a result of the hitch-hiking nature of the European honey bee and exotic honey bee colonies on sea cargo.

Hort Innovation Research and Development Manager Ashley Zamek said we are fortunate that a lot of the pests and diseases that are serious threats to honey bees and in-turn the plant industries that are dependent on pollination, are not in Australia.

Ms Zamek said, however, that is not because of luck. “Australia’s largely healthy honey bee population is the result of intensive, world-leading surveillance efforts combined with the vigilance and support of organisations and government agencies across the country.”

To deal with mounting biosecurity pressures, the NBPSP was first established in 2012 to monitor major ports and surrounding areas. The current program which concludes in 2021, is one of the leading surveillance programs for bee pests and pest bees in the world.

“The newly funded NBPSP, builds on the success of the previous program by continuing to focus on monitoring for bee pests, diseases and pest bees at high-risk ports,” said Dr Sharyn Taylor, National Manager Surveillance and Diagnostics at Plant Health Australia.

PHA will once again coordinate and administrate the program on a national level. The program will run from December 2021 to December 2024, and operate using a risk-based approach, undertaking activities at ports identified to be the highest risk of entry and establishment of bee pests.

“A consistent national approach is key to enhance early detection of target pests and the project has embedded a strong coordination role to capture and monitor program activities, as well as undertake consultation for a sustainable funding mechanism for any future surveillance programs,” said Dr Taylor.

“A risk based approach has been developed to identify the highest risk ports for monitoring under the new NBPSP, this means activities tested and developed in the last program will be deployed nationally to ensure we are using techniques suitable for the main pest risks,” she said.

“This is such an important program that will benefit everyone whether you’re a back yard gardener, a commercial grower or someone who just loves eating Australian grown food – we all benefit from keeping our bees safe,” said Ms Jaensch.

Biosecurity key as ag production set for record year

The Australian agriculture industry is set to make history this financial year with a forecast to reach $78 billion in value.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) latest outlook released recently, both crop growers and livestock producers will see record values of $43 billion and $33.4 billion respectively.

These are welcome figures indeed for Australian producers who have been faced with droughts, fires, floods, plagues, and the trade impacts of COVID-19 in recent years.

Animal Health Australia (AHA) and Plant Health Australia (PHA) welcome this prosperous news but remain vigilant; with many animal and plant diseases at our doorstep – which could rapidly and significantly derail the track toward the record-breaking figures – ongoing investment to protect the livelihood of producers and the end-to-end supply chain has never been more important.

CEO of Animal Health Australia, Kathleen Plowman, said the announcement of a Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030 Roadmap reiterates the importance of maintaining robust biosecurity management practices.

“Even with a highly effective biosecurity system, there is still a risk that new pests and diseases will enter the country. A large multi-state Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in Australia could cost an estimated $5 billion per year until its eradication,” Ms Plowman said.

“Biosecurity equals food security. Without a strong biosecurity system, our economy and our Australian way of life will suffer and diminish.

“Biosecurity enhances our ability to manage the risk of pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia,” Ms Plowman said.

Both AHA and PHA are coordinators for government-industry partnerships and improve national biosecurity outcomes by bringing together stakeholders to share knowledge, experience, and, ultimately, responsibility, by joining forces to address biosecurity threats and prevent their arrival.

CEO of Plant Health Australia, Sarah Corcoran, said our biosecurity system relies on strong partnerships:

“Damage to plants caused by pests and disease varies across species, but it’s estimated that 20 – 40 per cent of crops are lost every year,” Ms Corcoran said.

“When considering the impacts of pests and diseases in the context of the invasion curve, the return on investment in prevention at the beginning of the curve is higher than the economic return of ongoing management, making a strong case for continued investment in preparedness activities.

“Farm biosecurity is an example of how good biosecurity practices enable producers to identify and reduce the risks posed by diseases, pests and weeds. Biosecurity is part of the Australian value proposition, adding value to our highly reputable agricultural products both domestically and internationally,” Ms Corcoran said.

Identifying exotic pest and disease threats, the ways in which they may enter Australia and prioritising threats according to their potential impact allows the most serious risks to be targeted.

Strong investment in biosecurity activities such as surveillance, pathway analysis, border screening, inspection and planning enhances our ability to detect, identify, contain, and manage pests and diseases should they arrive.

PHA revamps online course offering

Plant Health Australia (PHA) has recently revamped three online courses that now offer greater interactivity and designs to enhance the online learning experience.

The three online courses, Plant Biosecurity in Australia, Pest Reporting and Responses (for Growers and Researchers) now have improved graphics and interactive elements such as pop-up text boxes and flip text boxes.

PHA’s Biosecurity Online Training (BOLT) platform provides e-learning courses related to emergency plant pest and disease preparedness, arrangements and biosecurity.

New pests and diseases can devastate farm productivity and native ecosystems and affect access of Australian goods to overseas markets.

“By reporting an exotic pest or disease early, there is a greater chance it will be successfully contained and eradicated. For this reason it is vital to report any suspected new pests, pathogens or new hosts,” said Dr Susanna Driessen, PHA’s General Manager, Emergency Response.

The Plant Biosecurity in Australia course provides a summary of the Australian biosecurity system and how emergency responses to plant pests are managed under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD). This course replaces the PHA Foundation course.

“This course is aimed at anyone interested in plant biosecurity in Australia and is a prerequisite course for biosecurity training delivered by TOCAL College as part of the Biosecurity Response Training Australia (BERTA) program,” Susanna said.

The short course, Growers – Pest Reporting and Responses, is aimed at growers, farm workers and agronomists, and provides a better understanding of reporting and responding to plant pests.

“This course focusses on the role of growers in reporting and responding to plant pests in Australia. Growers, farm workers, and agronomists will get a better understanding of how to report pests and what happens after they do,” she said.

“Reporting increases the chance of effective control and eradication, which reduces the impact on agriculture. This is what will keep our industries competitive, healthy and in-demand for years to come.”

Researchers have an obligation to report plant pests that are potentially exotic to Australia or new to a specific region. The Researchers – Pest Reporting and Responses course highlights the benefits of biosecurity, how to implement biosecurity practices and how to report a new or unusual pest or disease.

Access to BOLT courses is free and available to anyone with an interest in biosecurity. Courses undergo regular reviews to ensure they remain current and relevant.

Information on how to register is available on the PHA website.

National Fruit Fly Council appoints new manager

Plant Health Australia (PHA) and Hort Innovation are proud to announce that Stuart Burgess has been appointed as the new manager of the National Fruit Fly Council (NFFC).

Stuart brings professional expertise in industry leadership in trade and biosecurity related programs with wide ranging experience in whole of industry leadership, management, and development at national, state and business levels, across a broad spectrum of government, industry and commercial sectors.

He is highly experienced, having been the CEO of Fruit Growers Tasmania and Fund Manager and Industry Services Manager at Hort Innovation. Stuart brings a rich understanding of biosecurity particularly as it relates to trade and bilateral trade operations and a strong and long-term connection to the Australian horticultural and agricultural sectors.

“I’m very excited to join the NFFC. With my expertise in industry leadership in trade and biosecurity related programs across sectors, I’m ready to hit the ground running,” said Stuart.

The presence of some species of exotic fruit fly in Australia could devastate Australia’s domestic and international horticultural trade valued at over $9 billion.

The NFFC works with growers and fruit fly management community groups across all states and territories to develop and communicate management options for fruit fly on a national scale. The council focuses on improving the bottom line for producers through initiatives that enable them to produce clean, fruit-fly free produce, which will result in better domestic and international market access.

Stuart will continue to monitor and drive progress against the National Fruit Fly Strategy and lead the development of a cost-effective and sustainable national approach to fruit fly management.

“Stuart is the perfect fit with a strong and long-term connection to the Australian horticultural and agricultural sectors” said Matt Brand, CEO of Hort Innovation.

“The NFFC is a great example of another successful partnership between industry and government. Stuart’s selection emphasises PHA’s ongoing commitment to a strong biosecurity partnership,” said Mila Bristow, PHA’s National Manager: Performance and Innovation.

Along with a full-time project officer, Stuart will be supported by PHA’s Executive Management Team with oversight from Mila Bristow, National Manager: Performance and Innovation. The NFFC is funded by Hort Innovation.

Visit the Prevent Fruit Fly website for more information on Stuart and the NFFC’s work. Follow the NFFC on Twitter @PreventFruitFly for the latest news.

Three strategic pillars to ensure PHA meets vision by 2027

PHA’s new Strategic Plan 2022 –27 sets the company’s direction for the next five years and considers the challenges and opportunities that may present in the near future.

A strong and resilient plant biosecurity system is built on connected strategies and partnerships, effective and efficient response and recovery, and leveraged data and technology for improved decision-making and rapid response to biosecurity threats.

The three pillars of PHA’s strategy: responding effectively, strengthening partnerships, and enhancing integration, are set to deliver on our vision to be a valued leader of a strong, integrated plant biosecurity system.

Challenges and opportunities such as changing trading patterns/supply chains; shifts in geopolitics; merging of pest and disease regions; and climate and land-use changes have all lead to ever-more expansive established pests ranges.

It has been estimated that a serious incursion of a major plant pest could potentially cost our horticultural and broadacre industries upward of $29 billion.

“These drivers and the cumulative effects of multiple incursions all impact the future of plant biosecurity and have been considered in formulating the new strategy,” said Sarah Corcoran, CEO of Plant Health Australia.

PHA will focus on being a valued leader of a strong and integrated biosecurity system while our mission remains to strengthen the Australian plant biosecurity system to benefit the economy, environment, and community.

“Our role as the trusted coordinator of the plant biosecurity system bringing expertise, knowledge and stakeholders together to generate solutions is already well established however making sure the system is future-orientated and solutions-focused will add a level of complexity,” she said.

Connected strategies and partnerships, effective and efficient response and recovery and leveraging data and technology to improve decision-making, are all elements of a strong and resilient plant biosecurity system.

To advance Australia’s ability to respond and recover from plant pest incursions, PHA will continue its commitment to the Emergency Plant Pest Deed (EPPRD) and work with stakeholders to consider other national arrangements The focus will be on designing fit-for-purpose national response arrangements and establish mature levels of biosecurity response capability. The company will also support cohesive networks of stakeholders that are ready to respond to biosecurity threats.

By developing cohesive member, supply chain and science and technology networks, PHA will be able to establish new relationships with non-traditional and international partners. This will lead to increased positive sentiment towards the value of existing partnerships and increase the number of industry and partner programs. PHA will also work to increase an understanding of industry adoption of biosecurity practices and focus on the benefits of partnered communication, extension and training valued by industry.

Improving Australia’s ability to identify and detect biosecurity threats, remains one of PHA’s key priorities, which will increase awareness of the use of innovative technologies and approaches. The company will focus on enhancing national identification and detection capability, increasing knowledge brokering and engagement initiatives with the community.

Download a copy of PHA’s Strategic Plan 2022-27.

Message from the CEO November 2021

Quite a lot has happened in the last month with detections of the exotic beetle, polyphagous shot-hole borer (Euwallacea fornicatus) in Western Australia and the exotic moth, mango shoot looper (Perixera illepidaria) in Queensland, eDNA technology deployed with frontline biosecurity officersa new traceability pilot project for high-value exports and expressions of interests for the Biosecurity Innovation Program. These activities, investments, and collaborations demonstrate how the adoption of innovation, use of contemporary technology, and strategic partnerships help to build a stronger national plant biosecurity system. These detections are also an ever-present reminder to check plants and crops regularly for signs of pests and diseases and report anything unusual to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

In PHA news, our 2021 Annual Report is out now and available for download on the PHA website. The Annual Report marks my first year as CEO and the end of the 2016-21 Strategic Plan. I’m proud to report the PHA team has worked diligently, performing well against our key performance indicators. Keep an eye out for our new five-year Strategic Plan which will be launched later this month.

PHA’s member meetings will be held virtually on 23-24 November 2021, with the 21st Annual General Meeting being held on Tuesday 23 November. Member registration forms are available online and registrations close on Monday 15 November.

Yesterday, the virtual Australian Biosecurity Awards were held. Congratulations to Pohlman’s Nursery for taking home the Farm Biosecurity Producer of the Year Award. The award recognises Pohlman’s Nursery role in leading the adoption and implementation of an on-farm biosecurity program in the nursery production industry. It is always an honour to present this award alongside Animal Health Australia, and we are pleased to see a large-scale plant producer that is so passionate about biosecurity and who have shared the benefit of improved production with their industry.

I was also honoured with the Dr Kim Ritman Award for Science and Innovation. Thank you to Jenny Logan for your nomination and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment for awarding me this accolade. To be recognised in the league of great scientists is very humbling. Plant health is of global importance and a field of great complexity that requires lateral thinking and collaboration. My inspiration comes from developing new and innovative ways to further protect Australia’s biosecurity system.

Sarah Corcoran
CEO, Plant Health Australia

PHA Board meeting 104

The Plant Health Australia (PHA) Board met virtually on the 29 and 30 September for Board Meeting 104. The meeting was originally planned as a face-to-face meeting in Darwin, Northern Territory, but couldn’t go ahead due to COVID-19 travel restrictions across several parts of Australia.

Discussions on Day 1 covered PHA’s strategic projects and objectives including the endorsement 2022-27 Strategic Plan, continued development of the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy and renewal of PHA and Animal Health Australia’s (AHA) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Items of note included:

  • The new 2022–2027 Strategic Plan will be released in November 2021
  • Work is underway to finalise the National Plant Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy 2021-2031 and National Plant Biosecurity Preparedness Strategy 2021-2031
  • An independent review of the National Fruit Fly Council operation and composition will be conducted by the end of 2021
  • The Board supported approved the PHA/AHA MoU.

Day 2 featured a comprehensive review of financial reports and audits, risk mitigation plans and strategies and other internal policies.

PHA takes a proactive approach to risk management through all levels of the organisation and the Board is responsible for ensuring that risks and opportunities are identified on a timely basis and that PHA’s objectives and activities are aligned with these risks and opportunities as they are identified. Directors consider PHA’s risks at strategic and operational levels and critically review a risk management report at each Board and Finance and Audit Committee meeting which include analysis from the PHA management team of risk ratings, the reporting of risk mitigation actions and their effects.

The financial report for Plant Health Australia Limited for the year ended 30 June 2021 was authorised for issue in accordance with a resolution of the Directors on 29 September 2021.