Plant Health Committee

Plant Health Committee, Australia’s peak government biosecurity policy and decision-making forum, met in Perth from 29 July to 1 August. The committee brings together the Chief Plant Health Managers from each state and territory and the Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer.

The recent meeting included an update on the tomato-potato psyllid (TPP) work by the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and a visit to the TPP insectary. Discussions were also held on interstate movement of commodities during a visit to a large strawberry farm.

PHA is an observer on the committee and representatives attend committee meetings in an advisory capacity. Rodney Turner, General Manager Partnerships at PHA, attended the recent meeting. He noted that it covered many items of interest to PHA including discussions regarding:

  • MyPestGuide
  • AusPestCheck
  • the review of the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy and sub strategies
  • PHC research, development and extension priorities
  • the interstate trade review managed by PHA.

Safeguarding our forests

On National Tree Day (28 July 2019) Plant Health Australia highlighted the importance of safeguarding our native, plantation and urban forests from overseas pests.

Australian forests are free from many significant pests that impact production and trade overseas. While Australia has a comprehensive biosecurity system, protecting forests from exotic pests remains a continual challenge due to global travel and trade that increases the likelihood of exotic pest spread into Australia.

If we do nothing to slow or stop the spread of these pests, we risk losing our iconic native trees and habitats, having to pay more for the production of timber, and potentially importing more timber from overseas. New pests can also impact trees lining our city streets and in our parks and gardens.

Surveillance of our forest is vital for early detection of these new and emerging pests.

A National Forest Pest Surveillance Program is being established to safeguard our forests through a funding partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the Australian Forest Products Association.

Plant Health Australia is leading the process of setting up the national program through the National Forest Biosecurity Coordinator Paco Tovar.

He describes the program as one which will take a coordinated risk-based approach to managing biosecurity threats to Australia’s forests.

“Existing surveillance and interception data together with other information will be used to model and identify highest risk sites for entry and establishment of exotic pests,” explained Paco.

“We can then target surveillance at these high-risk sites such as ports, airports, import facilities, botanic gardens and tourist attractions to maximise our chance of detecting and eradicating exotic pests.”

“The program will also help with proving areas are free of a pest and making sure that diagnostic support to identify the surveillance samples is available.”

He said that he is currently engaging a range of stakeholders from industry and government to get their perspectives on the proposed program by holding a forum in each state and territory.

“We have already held meetings in Adelaide and Perth, and we are currently organising forums throughout the rest of the country during August and September,” said Paco.

“Our goal is to consult with stakeholders before a national forum at the end of the year.”

These forums will bring everyone together to give them the opportunity to learn about the program, provide feedback about the proposed program, and identify possible funding and personnel.

This initiative is funded  from the Australian Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the government’s plan for stronger farmers and a stronger economy.

Exercise Fastidious findings strengthen preparedness

A report published in May 2019 on Exercise Fastidious identifies ways to further strengthen Australia’s preparedness to respond to a detection Xylella fastidiosa.

Australia is currently free of all X. fastidiosa subspecies and known vectors of the disease found overseas, however, if it established in Australia it could cause significant environmental and economic impacts.

This exotic bacterial pathogen affects a wide range of commercial and ornamental plants and is the country’s number one National Priority Plant Pest.

To improve Australia’s preparedness to respond to a detection of X. fastidiosa, Hort Innovation funded Exercise Fastidious through its nursery fund.

The simulation exercise brought together a wide range of stakeholders who were asked to test elements of a response to the detection of X. fastidiosa using the Emergency Plant Pest framework and principles.

The scenario was X. fastidiosa subsp. multiplex detected in blueberry plants on a farm in Queensland.

The pest was traced back to a production nursery in Queensland and onto a range of additional properties. Only the pathogen was detected, with no evidence of known exotic vectors being found.

To investigate the feasibility of eradication and to develop a response strategy, two timepoints at 10 and 23 days after detection were chosen.

The exercise was delivered as a combination of discussion and functional activities over two days with each day using a different timepoint.

The report on Exercise Fastidious was written by PHA in consultation with the Exercise Planning Committee to provide a summary of activities and a critical analysis of outcomes and learnings.

The report identified that during Exercise Fastidious the:

  • Technical Feasibility of Eradication Decision Making Support Tool provided transparency to decision making and identified areas of focus for the response strategy.
  • Participants reached consensus on the appropriate movement conditions, and the destruction and disposal of Xylella-infected plants.
  • Assumed level of confidence in the presence, absence, or identity of an as yet undetected vector impacted the intensity of response actions and challenged the ability to agree on a response strategy.
  • Unknown potential for native or naturalised insects to vector Xylella challenged the development of the response strategy.
  • Participants found proving area and property freedom was difficult where the pest can be asymptomatic, has a wide host range and has a reservoir in its vectors.

As a direct outcome of the exercise, 18 research questions were identified. Addressing these research questions will support a more effective eradication response should X. fastidiosa be detected in Australia.

Download the report

New grains biosecurity officer for NSW

After decades of working with broadacre farmers across the country, Bill Gordon is looking forward to the challenges presented in his new role as the Grains Biosecurity Officer for NSW.

Employed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Bill will be working in the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program which is funded by Grain Producers Australia and managed by Plant Health Australia.

Bill Gordon is the new Grains Biosecurity Officer for NSW.

“I am thrilled to be working in the program. Where else could you work with a team helping to protect an industry the size of the Australia’s grain industry?” said Bill.

Before joining the program, he worked in crop protection and pesticide application. Bill has also delivered projects for the Grains Research and Development Corporation, including workshops for more than 10,000 grain growers across the country.

“I hope to use my experiences working with grain growers and advisors to promote best practice in farm biosecurity,” he shared.

“During my time on farms across the country for more than two decades I have seen great examples of how growers protect their investments by putting in place simple biosecurity practices on farm that prevent the introduction or spread of pests and diseases.”

“You can always tell when you arrive on farm if the owners are alert to biosecurity. It usually starts with a biosecurity sign on the gate and a way of keeping track of visitors to the farm.

“Most have dedicated gravel parking areas, on farm vehicles to use instead of your own, a vehicle wash-down area and footbaths.

“All of these practices indicate the grower is serious about keeping out pests, weeds and diseases.”

For more information about how to implement farm biosecurity practices on your property contact Bill on 0428 133 944 or at

For more information about the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program visit where you will find fact sheets on grain pests and biosecurity.


New ‘Pest Reporting and Responses’ course now live

PHA’s Biosecurity Online Training (BOLT) system provides free access to e-learning courses related to plant biosecurity. In response to demand for more training options, a new course called Pest Reporting and Responses has been developed.

The course is for growers, farm workers and agronomists and aims to provide them with a better understanding of reporting and responding to plant pests in Australia.

It includes information on the:

  • benefits of biosecurity
  • possible impacts of pests
  • biosecurity practices which can protect crops
  • steps to take if you find an unusual pest or symptom
  • joint response from government and industry to a pest.

You can find the course on the BOLT website.

A fact sheet was also developed and is available to download here.

If you are an industry member of PHA and feel that your members would benefit from doing the course we encourage you to link to it from your website.

For any questions or feedback on the course, please contact the PHA Training team at

New biosecurity manual for cherry growers released

The second version of the Cherry Growers’ Biosecurity Manual was released this month. It provides an up to date guide for growers and their consultants and advisors to improve biosecurity on farm.

A digital version of the manual can be downloaded here and hard copies were sent to growers with the Autumn edition of Cherry magazine. The people behind Cherry magazine also produced a video about the manual featuring PHA’s Rodney Turner and David Gale, and grower Mick Rouget from Koala Cherries.

As well as protecting against pests and diseases already in Australia, farm biosecurity practices can minimise the spread of an exotic pest or disease in the case of the incursion.

The manual includes fact sheets on high priority exotic pests and diseases of the cherry industry that were identified through an update to the Biosecurity Plan for the Cherry Industry (Cherry BP).

PHA worked with Cherry Growers Australia and government representatives from state departments of primary industries and agriculture. Together, these groups identified and prioritised the plant health risks to the cherry industry and assessed current biosecurity practices and future biosecurity needs.

A total of 175 exotic pests and the biosecurity threat they represent to cherry growers were assessed based on their potential to enter, establish and spread in Australia and the economic impact they could have. A much smaller list of high priority plant pest and disease threats for cherries were determined from the assessment.

The Cherry BP also provides a framework for the implementation of biosecurity risk mitigation measures allowing the industry and government to prioritise and begin implementing the plan through a range of activities.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the cherry research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not for profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.

If you would like more information about the Cherry BP or the manual email or phone 02 6215 7700.

Workshop Sugar Rush

Workshop Sugar Rush was held in Townsville on 8 May to investigate how the sugar industry would manage an exotic plant pest incursion.

The workshop was funded by Sugar Research Australia to improve the biosecurity preparedness of the sugar industry.

It was attended by a wide range of sectors of the sugar industry including, cane growers, millers, productivity boards, peak bodies, researchers and the Queensland Government.

The many excellent discussions and a high level of enthusiasm at the workshop reflects an industry that wants to be prepared.

The focus of the workshop was on a fictional detection of Ramu shoot borer in the Burdekin growing region in Queensland. Participants worked through exercises to learn:

  • what their role would be in an emergency plant pest response
  • what information they would want to know and how best to communicate it
  • how a response plan is put together and what information needs to go into it.

At the end of the workshop participants said it had been a valuable experience and that they now know what their role would be in an emergency plant pest response.

Read more information on biosecurity from Sugar Research Australia.



Forest biosecurity surveillance stakeholder forum for South Australia

On Tuesday 7 May South Australian forest stakeholders met in Adelaide to discuss the development of a National Forest Pest Surveillance Program.

PHA in collaboration with Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA), the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) organised the forum to gain an understanding of a range of stakeholder’s perspectives on the proposed program.

Attendees included a range of people involved in the South Australian forest sector from industry and state government including natural resource managers, diagnosticians, AFPA representatives, and individuals from nursery tree and plantation forestry companies.

Leon Rademeyer, the South Australian state representative for AFPA opened the forum with a short presentation outlining the value of protecting forests. In his presentation he emphasised the community value of forests as well as their economic value.

Following Leon’s introductory presentation, Paco Tovar, the National Forest Biosecurity Coordinator, gave an overview of the program and what’s needed to set up. He described the program as one which will take a coordinated risk-based approach to managing biosecurity threats to native, plantation and urban forests.

The forum was held to give attendees the opportunity to be more informed about the program, provide feedback to PHA about the proposed program, determine possible funding and personnel, and identify next steps.

A similar forum was held in Western Australia, and it is hoped that more will be held across Australia before a national meeting later in the year.

More information about this project is available here.

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.