Biosecurity communicators gather in Darwin

Biosecurity communicators from around Australia gathered in Darwin in early May where they heard about lessons identified from recent emergency plant pest responses and took the opportunity to visit the citrus canker emergency operations centre.

The National Biosecurity Communication and Engagement Network (NBCEN) members who took part in the meeting were from DAWR, state and territory governments, PHA, Animal Health Australia, CSIRO and an observer from Wildlife Health Australia.

Presenters from the NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources included Executive Director of Biosecurity and Animal Welfare, Sarah Corcoran, Chief Plant Health Officer, Anne Walters, and National Biosecurity Emergency Preparedness Experts Group member Jessica Arnold. They spoke about the successful eradication of banana freckle and the recent emergency response to citrus canker.

NT Farmers’ Chris Pham presented on building the biosecurity awareness of farmers with English as a second language in the Northern Territory, and Sarah Hain spoke on pest and disease surveillance in the mango industry.

Network members shared lessons identified on the communication and engagement aspects of responses to detections of brown marmorated stink bugs in Australia.

Other plant biosecurity related presentations were on engaging with peri-urban and hobby farmers, national preparedness for Xylella fastidiosa, sterile fruit fly technology, the new role of Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer and the International Year of Plant Health in 2020.

The NBCEN facilitates the rapid and consistent dissemination of information that people need to prevent and respond to a pest or disease outbreak. The network also plays a pivotal role in pest and disease prevention and preparedness through communication and stakeholder engagement activities.

A priority of the network is refining the public information function procedures for emergency responses and building the cohort of professionals who can contribute in responses.

Pacific visitors to PHA

PHA is pleased to be hosting two Pacific Islander biosecurity specialists for three weeks as part of the Pacific Plant Biosecurity Program.

The capacity building program is a joint initiative of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Crawford Fund.

Plant pests and diseases affect food production in the Pacific Islands and can limit trade and market access opportunities.

Through the program the visiting biosecurity specialists have the opportunity to learn from Australian and New Zealand expertise to strengthen the skills and networks of professionals in the Pacific region.

The 19 Pacific Islanders in Australia began their stay with a week in Brisbane and an introduction to biosecurity in Australia.

They are now posted around the country in biosecurity related organisations. PHA is hosting two: Touasi Tiwok from Vanuatu and Julianne Mose from the Solomon Islands.

Vanuatu perspective

Touasi Tiwok is the Principal Biosecurity Officer with the Department of Biosecurity in Vanuatu.

She says she has gained from exposure to the various aspects of biosecurity in Australia related to policy, border biosecurity and other aspects of the system.

“We don’t have the same infrastructure, but we can see what aspects of the Australian system we could potentially adapt and use.”

“One of the things I’ve been very pleased to learn about at PHA is how the pest risk assessments are done for biosecurity plans.”

During her stay, Touasi has been interested to learn how Australia facilitates trade with other countries and how this related to trade in the Pacific.

“It’s also been very good to establish the connections with other biosecurity specialists. Now, if I need to follow up an issue relating to imports or exports, I will know who can assist us,” she shared.

 Solomon Islands to benefit

Julianne Mose, Senior Biosecurity Officer with Biosecurity Solomon Islands, says Australia is already helping BSI with setting up biosecurity systems which are capable of safeguarding the country’s pests status and facilitating market access through international trade.

“Coming to Australia and having this experience at PHA has broadened my thinking by building my knowledge and giving me greater clarity in relation to biosecurity measures,” said Julianne.

“In the Solomon Islands we face issues such as a shortage of officers, lack of proper facilities and not having enough staff to specialise in certain areas.”

“One of the things I am looking forward to with the new capacity and capability I have, is to share with my colleagues what I’ve learnt about biosecurity in Australia.”

The Pacific Island fellows will next complete a course in communication, engagement and advocacy in Brisbane to finish their five weeks in Australia.

Break the pest cycle before sowing

With challenging and dry conditions prevailing this year, Grains Biosecurity Officer Jim Moran recommends staying one step ahead of pests by using farm biosecurity practices before and during sowing.

“Simple things can save you money in the long run by reducing the introduction and spread of pests, diseases and weeds on your property,” explained Jim.

Eliminate the ‘green bridge’

He recommends eliminating the ‘green bridge’ before planting by controlling weeds and volunteer plants from previous crops in your paddocks to break pest breeding cycles and reduce weed seed banks.

“It’s the easiest and most effective practice to protect this year’s crop as it will help to control insects, fungal diseases and weeds that are hard to kill or herbicide resistant,” said Jim.

“Removing the green bridge can also reduce the ability of rust spores to infect emerging seedlings.”

“Don’t forget to control areas along the verges of fences and roadsides. They’re often overlooked but are an ideal spot for diseases and pests to multiply and infect your crop.”

Clean machinery before sowing

Jim says it’s also important to clean your farm machinery so you don’t spread weeds, pests and diseases around your property.

“The nooks and crannies in your farm machinery are good hiding place for weeds, pests and diseases as they can easily trap seed, plant material or soil,” he said.

“As this is the easiest way to move pathogens, pests or weed seeds around your property it is best to ensure that your machinery is thoroughly cleaned before planting starts.”

He also suggests getting any contractors or agronomists you use for pre-sowing spraying, spreading of fertiliser or planting to make sure their machinery is very clean before working.

“It may be necessary to provide a dedicated wash down area with equipment. Watch this area for anything unusual emerging in the following weeks,” said Jim.

“Also tell contractors about any weed or pest issues on your farm and where they are to reduce the risk of spreading the problem to other areas of your farm or to someone else’s.”

Continue to keep things clean during sowing

While planting, Jim recommends having an air compressor or a high-pressure washer so you, or the contractor, can clean machinery, including clearing seed from planters, between paddocks and properties.

“It is essential to maintain farm hygiene practices on your property during sowing,” said Jim.

“Giving things a quick clean before leaving one paddock and moving to the next can significantly reduce your risk of spreading soil-borne pathogens and weed seed throughout your farm.”

“It’s also a good idea to leave the weedier paddocks until last in your planting cycle to reduce the risk of spreading the weeds into uninfected areas.”

Jim is a biosecurity officer for the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program which is an initiative of Plant Health Australia and Grain Producers Australia.

Contact Jim on 03 5430 4479 for a free copy of the Biosecurity Manual for Grain Producers.

Find more information and tips on how to implement farm biosecurity on your property at

Biosecurity Pathways and Surveillance Strategy workshop

On 2–3 April 2019, industry and government representatives met in Brisbane for a Biosecurity Pathways and Surveillance Strategy workshop. Participants gained a greater understanding of the biosecurity risks posed by the range of routes via which pests can get into and travel through northern Australia..

For surveillance to be effective and efficient there must be a strong understanding of which pests should be targeted for surveillance, and the pathways along which they are likely to be found.

Participants in the workshop discussed the surveillance activities that are already occurring within many plant production industries and how the information gained from these activities can be better used to minimise the risk of exotic pests and pathogens becoming established in Australia. The workshop also focused on the establishment of a collaborative surveillance strategy for northern plant-based industries.

This Brisbane workshop will be followed up with several further workshops across northern Australia, including one in Cairns on 1 May and another in Darwin on 9 May. If you would like to participate, please contact Trevor Dunmall at PHA on 0400 808 689 or email

Exercise Crown and Anchor

The National Biosecurity Response Team (NBRT), a cohort of trained and experienced staff from across Australia with recognised skills in biosecurity emergency responses, tested their ability to effectively deliver biosecurity responses in Commonwealth places as part of Exercise Crown and Anchor, held in Canberra on 25–28 March 2019.

Commonwealth places are areas acquired by the Commonwealth for public purposes, other than the seat of government (as in Canberra), such as airports and defence bases.

The exercise presented the participants with the fictional scenarios of a varroa mite detection in Jervis Bay Territory or a red imported fire ant detection on the grounds of Canberra International Airport. NBRT members, working with representatives from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the ACT Government and industry representatives, determined the appropriate response operations under each scenario.

Throughout the exercise participants conducted activities which would be undertaken in a Local Control Centre during an actual response to explore the complexities of working in Commonwealth places and the implementation of the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act 2015 for a post-border biosecurity response.

In addition, participants visited relevant sites within the ACT to gain an appreciation for elements of the scenarios. This included Australian Government and ACT Government emergency operation centres, the grounds surrounding Canberra International Airport, and a demonstration of honey bee hive surveillance at Canberra City Farm.

Benefits from the exercise include an improved response capability for NBRT members and a contribution towards an agreed policy for responding to biosecurity incidents in Commonwealth places.

A report capturing the outcomes of the exercise will be produced in the coming months and made available to PHA members once it is released.

Annual Surveillance Workshop 2019

The Annual Surveillance Workshop 2019 was held in Brisbane on 13–14 March for people working in pest surveillance to engage with each other as part of the newly established Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific. The workshop was attended by 62 people from several plant industries, the Australian government, state governments, research agencies and New Zealand.

There was a wide range of presentations given on topics including industry led surveillance, general surveillance, plant pest interception information and pathways for pest movement. Attendees were also updated on the progress of the Network’s initiatives including development of a website and identification of opportunities for professional development.

During the workshop the attendees had an opportunity to provide input on the:

  • key roles, themes and functions in the National Surveillance Capability Framework
  • communication mechanisms and tools needed to improve awareness on pest pathways
  • opportunities and challenges to improving the national capability for data capture
  • direction of the plant surveillance network into the future.

Outstanding contributions recognised at 2019 Australian Biosecurity Awards

The contributions of industry and government personnel to Australia’s biosecurity system were recognised at the Australian Biosecurity Awards on 5 March 2019.

David Banks Biosecurity Lifetime Achievement Award

The David Banks Biosecurity Lifetime Achievement Award went to Mike Ashton of Biosecurity Queensland. His visionary approach, enthusiasm and willingness to contribute to national plant biosecurity enhancement has made him a highly respected member of Australia’s biosecurity community.

As such, PHA was just one of the organisations to nominate Mike for this award. He was also nominated by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, the Australian Melon Association, Growcom, Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Mike has been instrumental in influencing the paradigm shift to ‘shared responsibility’ and his many achievements over more than 30 years have had a lasting impact on the nation’s biosecurity.

In 1985, he joined the then Queensland Department of Primary Industry as a cadet biosecurity inspector, which led to several roles in plant biosecurity and business management.

Following the papaya fruit fly outbreak in the late 1990, Mike was inspired to create a national plant biosecurity certification scheme that would increase flexibility in managing plant biosecurity risks while ensuring market access.

Mike was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Interstate Certification Assurance Scheme and the successful National Citrus Canker Eradication Program from 2004 to 2009.

He has also been a longstanding member of the national Plant Health Committee and the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests and represented Queensland as the state’s chief plant health manager.

Collaborative Industry–Government Award

Nathan Hancock, CEO of Citrus Australia, and Sarah Corcoran, Executive Director of the Biosecurity and Animal Welfare Division in the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources, are joint winners of the collaborative Industry–Government award. They were recognised for their outstanding commitment to biosecurity and their joint response to citrus canker in the Northern Territory.

Sarah Corcoran has dedicated more than 20 years to the prevention, response and recovery from pests and diseases that threaten the economy and the environment. While with Biosecurity Queensland for ten years, Sarah led and managed to of Australia’s largest national eradication programs, aimed at red imported fire ants and electric ants. Most recently, her strong communication skills have seen her excel in establishing relationships with all players involved in the citrus canker outbreak emergency response in the NT.

Nathan Hancock is a strong advocate for biosecurity within the citrus industry, including overseeing the appointment of a national citrus surveillance coordinator. Since commencing with Citrus Australia in 2011, he has been instrumental in the adoption of new maturity and quality standards for the citrus industry. He is also highly active in representing his industry and producers, strongly advocating for greater communication between government and industry, including during the citrus canker outbreak in the NT.

Farm Biosecurity Producer of the Year Award

The two winners of the 2019 Farm Biosecurity Producer of the Year award – Yarra Valley strawberry grower Luciano Corallo and Queensland cattle farmer Melinee Leather – were also announced at the ABAs.

Luciano won his award for being an early adopter of best farm practice management with a central focus on biosecurity from the farm gate to all parts of production, and Melinee was celebrated as a strong advocate for the importance of biosecurity practices to the long-term viability of individual businesses and the beef industry.

Animal Health Australia (AHA) and Plant Health Australia (PHA), through the Farm Biosecurity Program partner with DAWR to celebrate our primary producers’ biosecurity champions through this award. Read more about the two winners on the Farm Biosecurity website.

For more information about the Australian Biosecurity Awards 2019 view the booklet for the 2019 awards here.


Credit to partners in NT banana freckle eradication

The recent announcement of national freedom from banana freckle is a credit to all partners involved in eradicating the disease.

It is the considered, dedicated and long-term effort of Australia’s commercial banana growers, the Northern Territory public and government agencies that resulted in this positive outcome.

Banana freckle was successfully eradicated through a multi-million-dollar program under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD).

This national agreement between industry and government triggers arrangements to deal with emergency plant pests immediately upon detection, boosting the chances of eradication.

The EPPRD covers the decision making around and funding of the response, including the potential for owner reimbursement costs for growers. As the EPPRD custodian, Plant Health Australia (PHA) ensures that it is effectively administered and its integrity safeguarded.

The banana industry, through the Australian Banana Growers Council (AGBC), was one of the first cropping sectors in Australia to commit to this partnership approach to emergency responses, signing the EPPRD in 28 October 2004. There are now 47 industry and government signatories, together with PHA.

The commercial banana industry was the principle funder of the banana freckle response, investing half of the response costs, with the Australian government, state and territory governments, and the nursery and garden industry also contributing financially and in-kind to the response.

The ABGC said this investment was needed to avert the impact of banana freckle spreading further afield, particularly to the major growing area in Far North Queensland.

The positive outcome of the eradication program is recognition of the value and benefit of the EPPRD in bringing industry and government together to decide on how responses are implemented and funded.

The sound approach taken by the NT-based Banana Freckle Eradication Program was recognised with an Australian Biosecurity Award in 2016 in the Government Category for their significant contribution to maintaining the integrity of Australia’s biosecurity system.

National Biosecurity Committee presents at PHA-AHA Member Industry Forum

Members of the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC) made a series of presentations at the Plant Health Australia–Animal Health Australia joint member industry forum in November 2018.

Presentation topics included implementing recommendations from the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB) Review, and experiences of recent biosecurity responses.

The NBC manages a national, strategic approach to biosecurity threats relating to plant, animal, marine and aquatic pests and diseases and is concerned with their impact on agricultural production, the environment, community well-being and social amenity.

The committee comprises of senior officials from the Australian, state and territory primary industry or environment departments and is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), currently Daryl Quinlivan.

The NBC is supported by the Plant Health Committee (PHC), Environment and Invasives Committee (EIC) and National Biosecurity Communication and Engagement Network (NBCEN), Animal Health Committee and Marine Pest Sectoral Committee. PHA is involved as an observer in the PHC and as a member of EIC and NBCEN.

Lyn O’Connell, Deputy Secretary at DAWR, spoke to the forum about a range of initiatives, including:

  • The appointment of the Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer, Ian Thompson, who is consulting on a list of pests and diseases of environmental concern.
  • Consultations on the biosecurity imports levy on containers and bulk imports due to come into effect on 1 July 2019.
  • Trials of new x-ray detection technology for greater visibility of high-risk material in baggage.

Will Zacharin, Department of Primary Industries and Resources SA, spoke about the importance of detecting pests and diseases early to improve the chances of control. He pointed out that:

  • If farmers have a biosecurity plan, preventing and, if necessary, eradicating a pest and disease will be much easier.
  • Reporting early will allow quarantining of property and stop the spread to neighbours.
  • Emergency response deeds provide owners with a framework for reimbursement of costs.

Lloyd Klumpp, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment Tasmania, spoke about the outbreaks of Queensland fruit fly in Tasmania in 2018. He said:

  • We can’t work in isolation to maintain the system for the benefit of everybody: by protecting each other we are protecting ourselves.
  • Times are changing and pressures are building so we need to manage changing risks e.g. use of technology such as irradiation.

Sarah Corcoran, Department of Primary Industry and Resources NT spoke about the citrus canker incursion in the NT. She explained that:

  • Serendipitously the department had held an industry liaison workshop with PHA, AHA and local industry prior to the citrus canker detection.
  • Following the detection, a control centre was operating within four days.
  • The response has been supported through the national system and by over 104 people from across jurisdictions and industry who have assisted during the response.
  • An agreed national protocol was established early to allow citrus producers to continue trade with minimal disruption.

Malcolm Letts, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland, spoke about Panama TR4 response in the banana industry. He reported that:

  • Industry and government worked well together during the response.
  • The response has come a long way and disease has not travelled very far, however, parts of industry in north Queensland do not understand the risks.
  • Hort Innovation and the Australian Banana Growers Council are supporting research on TR4.

Michael Crozier, for Beth Jones, of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Victoria spoke about the response to the varroa mite detection at the Port of Melbourne in 2018. He said the department:

  • Was well prepared having done the Exercise Bee Prepared simulation exercises.
  • Focused on communication with industry, doing surveillance and risk management.

Post-harvest jobs to protect stored grain from pests

Post-harvest is the perfect time to do three simple on-farm hygiene jobs to protect your stored grain from pests.

Kym McIntyre from the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program advises that over summer is a good time to clean your unused grain storage and handling equipment and clear piles of grain residues on your farm.

“Hygiene is an essential step to ensure grain on your farm is kept ready for market in a safe, insect free environment,” explained Kym.

“For example, it is important to make sure old grain residues are not left piled up on your farm.

“Storage pests will breed in these piles and may fly up to 1 km back to stored grain and infest it again.”

“To prevent this, bury, burn or spread out the residues in the paddock to less than 20mm deep.”

When it comes to unused storage facilities, Philip Burrill from the National Stored Grain Extension Program said the first step is to clean out all grain residues.

“You can then apply structural treatments to the empty storage such as diatomaceous earth (DE), commonly known as Dryacide™,” said Philip.

“DE can provide a non-chemical option for a structural treatment and it only requires a very fine layer along the inside surfaces of the silo.

“The fine hard particles of the DE get into the joints of the insect, irritating their waxy exoskeleton and causing them to die of dehydration.”

Philip also emphasised that it is important to clean any grain handling equipment as grain left behind in the equipment provides an ideal place for insects to breed between harvests.

A trial done in Queensland found that a header thought to be clean at the end of the previous year had more than 1000 lesser grain borer insects in the first 40 litres of grain to run through it at the beginning of harvest.

“This shows how a small amount of grain residue can allow insects to breed and subsequently infest freshly harvested grain,” said Philip.

As it is impossible to remove all the grain residues from equipment without a major overhaul he recommends putting a small amount of DE into the harvester or handling equipment.

“Run the machine for a few minutes to distribute it through” Philip explained.

“Ideally, this should be done after harvest and again one month prior to the next harvest.”