Increasing emergency response capability in the Apple Isle

In March, PHA’s Biosecurity and Emergency Management Training Manager, Matt Chifley, and Project Officer, Lucy Aukett, delivered Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) awareness and industry liaison (IL) officer training in Tasmania.

The EPPRD awareness training – part of the National Emergency Plant Pest Training Program – was delivered in Hobart on day one to staff from Biosecurity Tasmania. Participants learnt about Tasmania’s obligations as signatories to the EPPRD and how biosecurity emergency responses are managed under the EPPRD.

Making the most of their time in the Apple Isle, Lucy and Matt travelled north from Hobart to Campbell Town with Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment staff to deliver IL training to representatives from Tasmanian plant industries. This session, delivered in conjunction with Biosecurity Tasmania, aimed to improve preparedness for plant biosecurity emergency responses and is available to potential IL officers and coordinators.

PHA Board meeting 102 and strategic workshop

On Tuesday 23 February 2021, the PHA Board met for their first face-to-face meeting in just over a year, with the majority of Directors able to attend in person.

Day one featured a workshop to progress the development of PHA’s next strategic plan. Facilitated by Russell Cummings, an external consult contracted to assist with the development of the plan, the workshop provided a status update of the stakeholder consultation process which was used to gain early insight into stakeholder’s views and expectations for the new strategic plan.

Common themes that emerged from the consultation process included challenges facing the national plant biosecurity system, increased biosecurity risk and competition for resources, and the importance of the EPPRD, technology and data analytics. The draft strategy was also presented.

Day two was dedicated to Board meeting 102. A comprehensive agenda covered focus areas for the business. This included developing frameworks that have clear goals and indicators to continue to build industry biosecurity preparedness, complimenting work undertaken in 2018 on developing an industry capability index.

The criticality of our national diagnostics system especially in managing plant pest incursions and supporting surveillance programs was also discussed. PHA plays a key role in multiple diagnostics projects that go towards developing and enhancing the national diagnostics system to ensure it operates in a coordinated and effective way. This is vital work to ensure expertise is available when required, that diagnosis is timely and consistent, and that duplication is avoided.

Updates on responses to Emergency Plant Pests are a standing item on the agenda and this area of the business is unfortunately always busier than what we would hope. Silver linings do exist though, and it was pleasing to hear progress in a number of the response program areas including the nearing completion of the National Citrus Canker Eradication Program.

Mangrove biosecurity workshop

On 18 February 2021, PHA teamed up with the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) to hold a mangrove biosecurity workshop at Cairns Aquarium.

The evening workshop was well attended with around 35 industry participants including reef tourism operators, sugar cane farmers, university staff, and representatives from CAFNEC and the Mulgrave River Catchment Landcare group.

The workshop highlighted the importance of biosecurity, provided an overview of the biosecurity system and outlined how members of the community can get involved. Volunteers from MangroveWatch a not-for-profit organisation focusing on the global conservation of mangrove and tidal wetland environments, received a special mention and appreciation for their enthusiastic participation in activities to date.

PHA Project Officer, Emily Lamberton, also presented on a recent project to develop an Environmental Risk Mitigation Plan for Mangroves and Associated Communities.

In 2020, PHA undertook a project funded by Australia’s Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer with input from environment and industry groups around Cairns and Australia. The project looked at the major exotic threats to mangroves and what is needed to better protect them. Developing a risk mitigation plan was an important step towards this, as was strengthening relationships with local groups through this workshop.

The presentations concluded with a practical session on the reporting mechanisms available if something unusual on a plant is found, followed by an interactive discussion session.

Participants recognised the synergies between environmental management, sustainability and biosecurity preparedness and were keen to ensure that their local ecosystems could be better prepared.

Message from the CEO March 2021

In a world still defined by fluctuating coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions, it continues to be challenging for us at Plant Health Australia (PHA) to bring together and partner with our stakeholders to solve problems and develop solutions to achieve our collective goals.

Despite Covid-19 restrictions, this month I’m pleased to release PHA’s Mid-Year Performance Report, which not only looks back on the first half of the financial year, but also marks my first six months as CEO of PHA.

As we look ahead to the next six months, we’ve engaged an external consultant to assist with the development of our new five-year Strategic Plan to deliver on priorities for plant health, manage transitions and change, and provide the foundation for long-term agricultural, economic and biosecurity outcomes for Australia. The new Strategic Plan launch is planned for our Annual General Meeting in November.

Participating in reviews of the biosecurity system is also critical to understanding the threats and opportunities for the nation. Last month, PHA’s Executive Management Team (EMT) met with the Inspector-General of Biosecurity to discuss his review of the ‘department’s policies, systems, personnel capability, processes and communication to support discharge of biosecurity responsibilities at the frontline’. This review clearly identified clear benefits in and support for, retaining cross-sector consultative committees.

The EMT is also in the midst of developing PHA’s streamlined 2021–22 Annual Operational Plan (AOP) to focus on project outcomes and achievements that relate to strengthening the national biosecurity system. The AOP webinar is scheduled for Wednesday 31 March 2021, and our members will be contacted closer to the date with registration details.

On the RD&E front, for the period January to March 2021, I assumed chairing responsibilities for the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI). The current focus for the PBRI is on implementing the investment plan through cross-sectoral RD&E workshops. Monthly workshops with researchers and PBRI members are being held on agreed high priority biosecurity topics, to determine specific areas of RD&E for cross-sectoral investment. The first one was last week on sea container hygiene and upcoming workshops will be on sustainable pest management, cross-sectoral biosecurity extension and fall armyworm.

Already this year we’ve welcomed a few new staff and recently farewelled other staff. You can read more about our staff movements below but I’m pleased that our farewelled staff will remain in the world of biosecurity and will be expanding their experience and knowledge of the system in their new adventures.

Later this year, the Biosecurity Collective – PHA, Animal Health Australia, Invasive Species Council and Centre for Invasive Species Solutions – will host the 2021 Australian Biosecurity Symposium. This key event on the Gold Coast, will drive forward the ‘Decade of Biosecurity 2021–30’. I encourage you to express your interest on the event website in order to receive updates including when registrations and abstracts open.

As we look even further towards 2030 and the biosecurity opportunities and challenges we collectively face in maintaining our strong biosecurity, I look forward to increased engagements over the coming months – including the face-to-face kind!

Sarah Corcoran

CEO, Plant Health Australia

Accredited biosecurity training

For those looking to gain accredited biosecurity training in Australia, there are a range of units of competency available.

Industry owned organisation Skills Impact recently developed four skill sets and reviewed 13 existing units of competency to ensure training keeps up with the evolving biosecurity sector.

Although this training is not compulsory to work in biosecurity, it can provide you with invaluable information about how to help minimise the risk of an incursion and what to do if there is a biosecurity response. If an emergency occurs, the best defence is being as prepared as possible.

The skill sets and units were published on the training.gov.au website on Thursday 24 December 2020 within the AHC Agriculture, Horticulture and Conservation and Land Management Training Package. The units include:

  • Biosecurity Emergency Response units
    • AHCBER302 Work effectively in a biosecurity emergency response
    • AHCBER305 Carry out emergency disease or pest control procedures on infected premises
    • AHCBER306 Carry out movement and security procedures
    • AHCBER403 Plan and supervise control activities on infected premises
    • AHCBER404 Conduct field surveillance for a biosecurity emergency response
    • AHCBER503 Manage active operational emergency disease or pest sites
    • AHCBER504 Manage the implementation of a biosecurity emergency control program
    • AHCBER602 Plan and oversee a biosecurity emergency incident
  • Biosecurity units
    • AHCBIO203 Inspect and clean machinery, tools and equipment to preserve biosecurity
    • AHCBIO204 Follow site biosecurity procedures
    • AHCBIO301 Identify and report signs of unusual disease or pest
    • AHCBIO303 Apply biosecurity measures
    • AHCBIO401 Plan and implement a biosecurity program

The updated units now:

  • align with actual emergency response scenarios
  • incorporate all agricultural and environmental areas
  • include Biosecurity Incident Management System (BIMS) standards
  • have updated terminology to align with current industry use.

If you’re interested in obtaining any of the above units, you can undertake them through any registered training organisation (RTO) that offers them. A list of RTOs can be found on the training.gov.au website.

You can also take these courses with your local state or territory department responsible for biosecurity through Tocal College. Contact your local department to find out when they are next running the training.

Read more about the project on the Skills Impact website.

Biosecurity Plan for the Berry Sector

This year, PHA coordinated and developed the Biosecurity Plan for the Berry Sector (Version 1.0, December 2020) in collaboration with government and industry. The plan will help the berry sector to continue to minimise and manage biosecurity risks to ensure its future growth and sustainability.

Biosecurity planning is a process that identifies biosecurity risks and strategies to mitigate the impact of established and exotic pests. Biosecurity plans use a strategic framework to prioritise investment and biosecurity activities for Australia’s plant production industries. Furthermore, biosecurity planning ensures that plant industries comply with their legal obligations as signatories to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD).

The Biosecurity Plan for the Berry Sector has been endorsed by the rubus (Raspberries and Blackberries Australia) and strawberry (Strawberries Australia Inc.) peak industry bodies, and state and territory governments through the Plant Health Committee. The plan also incorporated information from the existing Biosecurity Plan for the Blueberry Industry to create a unified document that reflects all the industry shareholders of Berries Australia Ltd.

The plan identifies 21 High Priority Pests from over 330 exotic threats to the berry sector. It also outlines actions to support biosecurity preparedness and response capacity which could be undertaken through the ongoing partnership between government and the berry sector.

Connecting plant health surveillance professionals

Members of the Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific are now better connected following the launch of a new website in December at the Annual Surveillance Workshop 2020.

By improving links between surveillance professionals and providing specialised training opportunities such as the workshop, the network aims to strengthen plant pest surveillance capability and capacity.

“Surveillance for pests and diseases is vital to the plant biosecurity system, so supporting those who conduct this work to collaborate and enhance their skills is essential,” said Chris Dale, Chair of the Plant Surveillance Network Working Group.

“The network’s new website will support surveillance professionals across the Australasia-Pacific region by allowing them to share information and access member-only events and resources.”

Mr Dale says the network is free to join and open to everyone engaged in surveillance activities in a public, private or volunteer capacity in Australia, New Zealand and the nearby region.

“A wide range of people can become members of the network like government staff, industry representatives, agronomists, researchers and even community gardeners if they can clearly demonstrate involvement in a surveillance program.”

Dr Natalie O’Donnell, Diagnostics and Surveillance Networks Coordinator at Plant Health Australia, says the site was developed to be a central hub of up to date plant health surveillance information accessible by everyone across the surveillance spectrum.

“The website allows members to easily access surveillance resources like protocols, fact sheets, presentations and videos, so that they can stay up to date with current practices.”

“Members also gain access to a contact directory of other members, and events and training opportunities like the Annual Surveillance Workshop.”

“Over the last year the site has been in a testing phase with existing members, but we are now excited to share it and encourage new people to join the network.”

To learn more and join the network visit plantsurveillancenetwork.net.au

The Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific was established in 2017 by the Subcommittee for National Plant Health Surveillance. It is jointly managed by the Australian Government, Australia’s state and territory governments, and Plant Health Australia with funding provided by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Defending against a new pest, fall armyworm

Since its detection across northern parts of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia in February 2020, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) has been quick to establish in these locations, but Plant Health Australia (PHA) has announced new resources to assist in defending crops against the pest.

Stuart Kearns, National Manager for Preparedness and RD&E at PHA, said that the threat posed by fall armyworm prompted concerted efforts to find out about its likely effects in Australia and how best to manage it.

“As fall armyworm is new to Australia, we are relying on information and experience from overseas until locally generated data is developed to bolster this information.”

In unmanaged situations, fall armyworm has been known to decimate crops overseas, specifically maize, sweetcorn and sorghum, but in all, the pest has been observed on 350 different plant species with 11 crop industries potentially at risk.

“We have sourced knowledge from around the world to develop a new reference guide on the pest, together with a series of podcasts, that will help industry manage the invasive moth species,” Stuart said.

“The information assembled includes how to scout for and recognise the pest, its lifecycle and biology, estimated areas at risk, and management practices that will help to limit the damage it causes.”

The Fall Armyworm Continuity Plan for the Australian Grains Industry was a Grains Research Development Corporation investment initiative led by cesar with project partners PHA, Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

The 75-page document is intended for use as a reference guide that provides a basis for designing area wide management plans, crop specific management manuals and strategies to avoid resistance to chemical controls.

The other resource, a series of podcasts, aimed primarily at agronomists and growers, will prepare farm businesses for potential impacts.

Funded by Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI) members and produced by PHA, the podcasts are available for free from the PBRI website and will also be made available through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Fireside. Each episode runs for about 30 minutes.

Stuart Kearns urges industries, agronomists and producers to find out about fall armyworm, and the risk it poses to their businesses, since it has been determined that it is unfeasible to eradicate.

“Unfortunately, this moth is here to stay. After it was detected in the north of Australia earlier this year it has spread rapidly southwards on prevailing winds,” he said.

“While these northern areas are likely to host fall armyworm populations in crops, pastures and weeds, it is difficult to know just how significant a pest fall armyworm will be in the regions further south.”

Stuart says early detection is critical to controlling populations which can build up quickly if unchecked. He advises actively monitoring the presence, population, and movement of the new pest in your region.

“No one knows exactly how this new pest will behave in crops and regions in Australia, but it’s best to get on the front foot and prepare for its arrival,” Stuart said.

The podcast project, coordinated by PBRI was co-funded by the Cotton Research and Development CorporationAgriFutures Australia, the Grains Research and Development CorporationHort Innovation and Sugar Research Australia.


Fall Armyworm Continuity Guide for the Australian Grains Industry

Fall Armyworm – Quick Guide (extracted from the Continuity Plan)

Blueprint for national cooperation on fruit fly released

The path towards a more coordinated and sustainable fruit fly management system to protect the future productivity and profitability of Australia’s horticulture sector is now clearer with the release of the 2020-25 National Fruit Fly Strategy.

The strategy was launched yesterday at a meeting of the National Fruit Fly Council (NFFC).

Lloyd Klumpp, Chair of the National Fruit Fly Council

Lloyd Klumpp, Chair of the NFFC, said the strategy provides a framework for governments, industry and research funders to advance fruit fly management in Australia.

“It is a blueprint for national cooperation as we seek to both manage our existing pest fruit fly species, Queensland fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly, and prevent exotic species like Oriental fruit fly establishing in Australia,” said Dr Klumpp.

Steve Burdette, Technical Manager at Nutrano Produce Group and member of the NFFC, said a focus of the strategy is to maintain and advance access to domestic and international markets for fruit fly affected industries.

Steve Burdette, Technical Manager at Nutrano Produce Group and member of the National Fruit Fly Council

“We have to work together to tackle fruit fly. They are a key barrier to market access for our fruit fly affected industries, which make up about half of Australia’s $13 billion horticulture sector.”

Sarah Corcoran, CEO of Plant Health Australia (PHA), said the new strategy builds on a draft version released by PHA in 2008 and is the result of a collaborative effort by Australia’s horticultural industries, state governments, the Australian Government, Hort Innovation and various research institutions.

“PHA brought together the contributions of these organisations into a unified national strategy which can meet the needs of the diverse industries and regions impacted by fruit fly.”

Sarah Corcoran, CEO of Plant Health Australia

The actions required to meet these needs have been captured under eight different, yet interdependent, priority areas: market access; management of established fruit fly; prevention, preparedness and response; research; surveillance; diagnostics; communication and engagement; and cooperation.

The NFFC is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the 2020-25 National Fruit Fly Strategy and will be developing annual implementation plans to identify and monitor key activities under the strategy.

“While it is the Council which will oversee the implementation of the strategy, our real strength lies in the contribution that every individual and every organisation makes to combating fruit fly,” said Dr Klumpp.

“Effective management of fruit flies relies on cooperation at all levels of government, and between industry bodies, research institutions, regional groups, growers, and community and home gardeners.”

“To this end, I encourage you to consider using this strategic framework when planning and executing fruit fly management.”

Download the strategy and 2020-21 implementation plan now at preventfruitfly.com.au/nffs

The NFFC was formed in 2015 to bring together industry and government representatives to drive the delivery of a cost-effective and sustainable approach to managing fruit flies across Australia. It is convened by PHA and funded by Australia’s federal and state governments and Hort Innovation.

Turning a moment into a movement: mobilising 25 million biosecurity warriors

With Covid-19 and other biosecurity risks placing unprecedented pressure on our biosecurity system, more than 250 champions from across Australia’s and New Zealand’s biosecurity sectors came together for a virtual workshop to discuss how we can mobilise a 25 million-strong biosecurity mass movement.

Formed off the back of the highly successful 2019 Australian Biosecurity Symposium, the workshop partnered Animal Health Australia (AHA), Invasive Species Council (ISC), Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) and Plant Health Australia (PHA) to define a 2030-ready biosecurity system and identify ways to ensure biosecurity becomes an Australia-wide issue.

Kathleen Plowman, AHA CEO, said the vision for the biosecurity collective is to create a movement that all Australians will be part of.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if biosecurity practices and awareness were at the same level as taglines like ‘slip, slop, slap’ which are so well known by all Australians.

“We need to make biosecurity easy to do and empower our local communities through endorsement, encouragement and investment,” Ms Plowman said.

Sarah Corcoran, PHA CEO, called for 2020-30 to be the decade of biosecurity.

“This is our chance to secure our national wellbeing for generations to come and build a biosecurity mass movement.

“We also need to support biosecurity champions big and small, from the everyday heroes who spot something unusual and report it, to those who dedicate their lives to biosecurity,” Ms Corcoran said.

Andreas Glanznig, CISS CEO, stressed the importance of the community in surveillance and reporting of new pests, weeds and diseases that could potentially damage our important wildlife and agriculture.

“We need 25 million sets of eyes ready to report what they see and support rapid action to eradicate or contain new biosecurity threats.

“New technology to transform community led citizen science is imperative; keeping it simple and easy to use will ensure our system can tackle the increasing threats at our doorstep,” Mr Glanznig said.

Andrew Cox, ISC CEO, said we cannot do this on our own and we cannot be complacent.

“There will usually only be one chance to stop a new pest or disease devastating our economy, environment or the Australian way of life.

“We have lots to learn from other sectors dealing with major risks, including bushfire and other disaster management authorities, the health sector and workplace safety authorities.

“We need to be collaborative and cross-sectorial if we are to be successful,” Mr Cox said.

The Biosecurity Collective partners will be driving key initiatives from the workshop to progress the goal to mobilise a 25 million strong biosecurity mass movement.

Workshop participants identified four areas for future work:

  1. Developing support mechanisms for our biosecurity champions.
  2. Expanding the Biosecurity Warriors education program into the national school curriculum.
  3. Sharing analysis and research on innovative and successful biosecurity initiatives.
  4. Encouraging industry and community leaders to make a biosecurity commitment.

Outcomes from the workshop held on 4-5 November will be made available in the coming weeks and will form the beginnings of our Biosecurity 2030 agenda. You can follow the discussion and keep the conversation going by using and following #Biosecurity2030 on social media.


Media contact on behalf of the partner organisations:

Ian McDonald, Communications Manager, Centre for Invasive Species Solutions
M: 0429 985 643 | E: [email protected]