Avocados Australia tests biosecurity protocols

In a move to continue biosecurity preparedness and response capabilities, the Board of Avocados Australia Limited (AAL) participated in Exercise Proteger on 25 October.

Facilitated by Plant Health Australia’s (PHA), the desktop exercise was designed to test decision-making processes and application of the Biosecurity Incident Standard Operating Procedure (BISOP) during a biosecurity emergency response. The exercise was based on a hypothetical response that tested the Board’s financial and technical decision-making capacity as well as communication and engagement processes.

Facilitated by PHA’S A/Learning and Development Manager, Naomi Wynn, and supported by General Manager of Emergency Response, Dr Susanna Driessen, the exercise allowed AAL to reflect on its systems and processes in a realistic scenario, pinpointing the skills and knowledge necessary for both short-term and long-term responses.

Feedback from participants affirmed its value: the practical experience made the theory more tangible and fortified AAL’s continued commitment to biosecurity readiness.

Exercise Proteger is just one example of how PHA is working with our members to enhance their biosecurity capability and preparedness. For more information on exercise development and delivery, contact the training team via email training@phau.com.au.

A record 450 forestry experts converged for ANZIF 2023

The Australia New Zealand Institute of Forestry conference was recently held in Tweed Heads, New South Wales, with a record of 475 delegates in attendance, representing a broad range of Australian and New Zealand stakeholders.

The theme of the conference, ‘Embracing Our Natural Capital: The Science, Technology and Art of Managing Forests For All Values’, facilitated the conversations and collaboration. It aimed to highlight the need for active and adaptive management of our natural capital using evidence-based and emerging innovation, technology, skills and knowledge to support our forests and secure our future.

More than 130 speakers including forest scientists, agro-foresters, and traditional owners presented at the conference. The program facilitated both structured and informal dialogue and networking and incorporated a day of field sessions.

Focus was on the roles innovation, technology, skills and knowledge play in supporting resilient and healthy forests, as well as the importance of robust relationships and partnerships to support the industry. Sessions were dedicated to fostering education partnerships to encourage new entrants into the forestry sector, as well as building professional networks in various Pacific nations such as Fiji, Vanuatu, and Samoa.

Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and Plant Health Australia (PHA) sponsored two biosecurity focused sessions. Paco Tovar, AFPA’s Biosecurity Manager, introduced the ForestWatch Australia program, which aims to build capacity within forest biosecurity through the delivery of stakeholder training materials. Other presentations addressed specific forest pests and their management, as well as collaborations with neighbouring countries and indigenous groups to improve forest biosecurity.

Indigenous forestry also received considerable attention, with numerous presentations highlighting the contributions of traditional owners in both northern and southern Australia. Notably, a delegation of traditional owners involved in the ‘Safeguarding Indigenous-led Forestry in Northern Australia’ project, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and coordinated by PHA, also attended.

Presentations highlighted the vital role of forests in supporting biodiversity, creating habitats, and building ‘natural capital.’ The conference also explored the role of forestry, particularly farm forestry, in offsetting carbon emissions, emphasizing the industry’s contribution to carbon reduction efforts.

Other topics covered during the conference included fire management, forest production and harvesting, farm forestry, and the role of technology in forestry practices, including remote sensing using satellite, fixed wing and drone technology and ArborCarbon’s aerial mapping program.

Education and student presentations were also prominent, showcasing the importance of forest education programs and providing a platform for students to share their research and insights. Delegates also had the opportunity to participate in field trips exploring various aspects of the industry.

ANZIF provided a valuable platform for industry professionals, researchers, and stakeholders to exchange knowledge, foster partnerships, and address critical issues facing the forestry sector. With its diverse range of sessions and engaging discussions, the event showcased the industry’s commitment to sustainability, innovation, and collaboration.

Message from the CEO – November 2023

Welcome to the November edition of Tendrils, our second last e-newsletter for 2023!

As we approach the end-of-year festivities, it is important to remember that biosecurity threats don’t take a break and we need to continue to be vigilant to safeguard Australia’s biosecurity.

One of the tools we use to respond and manage biosecurity risks, is the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD), that celebrated its 18th year of existence in October. The EPPRD is unique as it promotes a valuable partnership and joint decision-making between Australian government and plant industry partners.

In addition to facing continuous biosecurity threats, farmers remain at the forefront of global issues. I recently attended the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) National Conference as well as a National Press Club address by NFF’s outgoing President Fiona Simson. She said the NFF remains committed to find a pathway to financially reward farmers for their stewardship of the environment as they manage well over half of the Australian continent. Fiona has been a passionate advocate for Australian farmers over the past seven years at the NFF, and I wish her well.  Congratulations to Victorian grain and livestock producer David Jochinke on his election as the new NFF President.

Following consultation earlier this year, new bills were introduced into Parliament in mid-October. The bills are intended to modernise legislation to support the agricultural levy system by reducing complexity, amending inconsistencies, and improving flexibility. Key changes include the adoption of modern compliance arrangements and changes to the methodology underpinning matching funding arrangements. These bills were introduced and read a first time in the Senate last week with a second reading moved and the debate adjourned. You can track progress of these bills on the Parliament of Australia website.

The call for abstracts is now open for the 3rd Australian Biosecurity Symposium scheduled to take place from 27 – 29 August 2024 on the Gold Coast. We invite abstracts and presentations that promote the exchange of knowledge and ideas across the biosecurity spectrum – from agriculture (animals and plants) to wildlife, aquatics, humans, and the environment. The symposium is the perfect platform to explore transformative approaches for Australia’s biosecurity systems, safeguarding our economy, environment, and way of life. Abstract submissions close on Sunday, 31 March 2024. Visit the website to submit your abstract.

During the final weeks on 2023, the PHA team will continue to deliver against our strategic and operational priorities, and we look forward to seeing you at our upcoming Member meetings.

The Farm Biosecurity e-Newsletter is out now!

The Farm Biosecurity e-Newsletter is a bi-monthly publication that contains the latest pest and disease alerts, updates about new resources such as videos, factsheets, apps, and other relevant on-farm biosecurity developments.

The October issue has just been published, read it now via the link below.

Farm Biosecurity October 2023 issue.

PHA Board Meeting 112 Communique

The Plant Health Australia (PHA) Board travelled to the Northern Territory (NT) and convened for PHA Board Meeting (BM) 112 from 19-20 September 2023.

Hosted in the offices of the Northern Australia Development Office (NADO) in Darwin, the agenda for BM112 included discussion of national and organisational strategy, PHA finance, budgeting and related policy, a review of corporate risk, policy and auditing, discussion of PHA membership applications, and preparation for the PHA Annual General Meeting and Plant Industry Forum.

Also in attendance by invitation of the Board were PHA’s Chief Executive Officer Sarah Corcoran, General Manager (Partnerships & Innovation) Dr Lucy Tran-Nguyen, Management Accountant Somania Dahal, and Chief Operating Officer Jessica Arnold.

During BM 112, the Board’s discussion of matters of special importance to the company and its Members included:

  • Discussion of the latest PHA EPPRD (Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed) Management and Compliance Report, noting PHA’s compliance with its obligations and updates on the varroa mite and polyphagous shot hole borer responses
  • Discussion of funding arrangements for the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy and resourcing required to maintain agreed governance and reporting arrangements
  • Review of PHA finances and budgeting, including review and acceptance of monthly and annual financial reports, a review of Director’s fees, approving changes to the PHA Reserves Policy, and congratulating the PHA Finance team on a successful external audit
  • Welcoming the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) as an Associate member, effective 1 October 2023
  • Receiving an update on PHA’s involvement in the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI) and the progress of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the PBRI
  • And thanking outgoing Directors Mr Steve McCutcheon, Mr Robert Prince and Dr Joanne Daly for their service to the Board and company, and especially Mr McCutcheon for his service as Chairperson for the past six years.

 
While attending BM112, the Board was also able to visit key sites and facilities in the region to better understand biosecurity practices and contemporary research and advancements in the field.

On Wednesday 20 September, the Board visited Darwin Fruit Farm to understand how to successfully grow bananas in TR4 Panama-affected soil, as well as how growers continue to supply the Territory with consistent commercial quantities of bananas year-round.

The Board then visited the Coastal Plains Research Station, where they were provided a tour of the facility and a briefing on the joint initiatives underway by NT Department of Industries, Tourism and Trade (DITT) staff.  These included active trials of commodities such as native rice, ginger, dragon fruit, agave, finger limes, vanilla, jackfruit and rambutan, as well as disease management trials on corn.

The Board also visited the new facilities at Berrimah Science Precinct, including a state-of-the-art molecular laboratory and new insectary and grow house. Plans for the precinct’s development were presented, including a Science Services building, which will provide additional labs for functions such as entomology, virology, water services and environmental DNA, and new office accommodation, which will see a cohabitation of staff from NT DITT and the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS).

On Thursday 21 September, the Board visited Darwin Aquaculture Centre where they learnt about the research being undertaken with black jewfish and black lip rock oysters, both of which are showing promise as ideal aquaculture species. Finally, they received presentations from NT DITT and NAQS on the current responses to Browsing Ant and Banana Freckle, as well as an overview on their projects on eDNA, Insect ID for Bushfoods, eNose, and the Indigenous Ranger Biosecurity Program.

Overall, BM112 was a varied and stimulating experience for all in attendance. BM113 will be held at the PHA offices in Canberra on 30 November 2023, and follows the PHA meetings being held on 28-29 November 2023, including the Plant Industry and Government Forums, the Members and EPPRD meetings and the 2023 Annual General Meeting where it is expected a number of new Board Directors will be appointed.

The October issue of the National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic Network’s e-newsletter is out now.

The National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic Network (NPBDN) helps Australian plant diagnosticians succeed together by working collaboratively to navigate biosecurity challenges.

The October issue of their bi-monthly newsletter has just been published, read it now via the link below.

Read the October 2023 issue.

PHA has four new NBRT cadets

Plant Health Australia’s (PHA) Luke McKee, Mandy Jarvis, Emily Sears, and Niki Sheperd recently attended the latest National Biosecurity Response Team (NBRT) Cadet training program, held 12 – 13 October in Canberra.

Animal Health Australia (AHA) partnered with the ACT government to present the training program to 26 nominated individuals from across the biosecurity spectrum in the ACT, including PHA, the Department of Environment Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPPSD), Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS), Icon Water, and Suburban Land Agency.

Biosecurity response management specialist, Craig Elliott from P2R2 Consulting, facilitated the workshop, which included a range of scenarios and tasks designed to build foundational knowledge and help develop the necessary skills to address potential animal and plant incursions in a biosecurity emergency preparedness and response.

The NBRT training is designed to focus on the mechanics and functions of biosecurity response and arrangements at both state and national levels. Attendees actively engaged in problem-solving exercises based on diverse scenarios, preparing them for various potential biosecurity incidents. All attendees had the opportunity to meet and network with a wide variety of people from across industries in the ACT and increase the pool of those available to call on in the event of a biosecurity response.

PHA Biosecurity Officer Luke McKee found it beneficial to learn about what is involved in a biosecurity emergency event and how and where people are deployed in response to an incident. “The NBRT training program is a great opportunity for PHA to build capacity of its staff through the development of knowledge and skills in a biosecurity emergency response, which also aligns with PHA’s learning strategy objectives,” he said.

Niki Shepherd, Training Officer at PHA said it was a unique and worthwhile opportunity to learn in detail about responses in Australia and to hear directly from people who have worked in emergency response experiences in Australia, and specifically in the ACT.

Emily Sears, Manager, Animal Health Systems at PHA said working through the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) scenario helped to reinforce the different tasks and functional areas in a response and gave us a greater appreciation of the practicalities and broader impacts of a biosecurity response.

Mandy Jarvis, Marketing and Communications Specialist at PHA, was impressed by the wide and varied practical experiences of the presenters in some of Australia’s past biosecurity incursions, including Myrtle rust, Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) and the recent Varroa mite response. “It was so interesting to hear about real-life experiences and the extent of response preparedness activities that are already in place for potential exotic pest and disease incursions in the animal and plant space, including Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Xyllela virus.”

Since its formation in 2017, the NBRT has been developing and maintaining a pool of response-ready personnel cross Australia that can be accessed by a jurisdiction’s biosecurity agency when responding to a biosecurity incident.  The goal of the program is to elevate biosecurity emergency preparedness and response capabilities in each jurisdiction. By maintaining a critical mass of cross-sectoral response-ready personnel, the initiative supports national efforts and assists jurisdictional preparedness, ensuring a robust and well-coordinated response to future biosecurity challenges.

The NBRT comprises 70 members from the Australian, state and territory governments who are grouped into either the mentor or Incident Management Team (IMT) functional cohort. In addition, NBRT members are appointed to one of the following functions: Incident Management; Liaison; Logistics; Operations; Planning, or Public Information.

The workshop also included presentations from Kirsten Tasker (Biosecurity and Rural Programs Coordinator), Bruce Hancock (Director, Biosecurity and Agriculture Policy at ACT Government), and Tony Scherl (Director of Fire Planning).

The program provided a comprehensive overview of the mechanics of a response, from the investigation and alert phase, through the operations phase to either area freedom or transition to management, including the different levels of response, from level one localised responses to level five where international support may be required.

Visit animalhealthaustralia.com.au for more information on the NRBT program.

2023 Industry Liaison Officer Training

Plant Health Australia (PHA) has delivered Industry Liaison Officer (ILO) training workshops across Australia throughout the year. Workshops in Brisbane, Tasmania, Perth, and Adelaide attracted 79 participants from 14 industries across a number of different sectors including broadacre, forestry, horticulture and honey bees.  The face-to-face workshops were delivered in collaboration with biosecurity agencies from the host states.

PHA’s ILO training aims to equip ILO’s with an understanding of the knowledge and tasks they will need to work in a control centre during a plant biosecurity response. ILOs learn how they would work alongside the incident management team to provide an industry perspective on response activities and to support their industry.

Feedback from participants has been very positive with many indicating that the practical activities and examples, ability to ask questions and networking with other industries as highlights of the workshop. Participants also felt they improved their confidence to perform the ILO role.

Planning for next year’s workshops is underway and a calendar of dates will be available shortly. Nominated ILOs are encouraged to attend the workshops and to register your interest in please email training@phau.com.au.

Boosting Victorian grapevine biosecurity

Agriculture Victoria Research (AVR), Biosecurity and Agricultural Services (BAS), Plant Health Australia (PHA) and Wine Victoria (WV) facilitated two workshops on grapevine biosecurity in Mildura and Melbourne during September.

The workshops presented an overview of important grapevine viruses and the viruses present in Victoria, through the ‘Growing Victorian Wine into the Future’ program commissioned by Wine Victoria and funded by the Victorian Government. Kim Chalmers from Wine Victoria emphasised the importance of biosecurity and using high health status grapevine propagation material to the continued quality and productivity of the Australian wine industry.

Dr Cliff Kinotti from AVR, presented the outcomes of his survey on grapevine viruses across Victoria that were identified using high-throughput sequencing (HTS).

Dr Fiona Constable from AVR, provided an overview of grapevine viruses, highlighting the importance of testing propagation material to ensure that it was free of viruses.

Chris Bennett from Vinehealth Australia outlined the role of the South Australian Vine Improvement Association in providing high health status vine propagation material to vineyards through an extensive germplasm collection.

Dr Chris Pittock from BAS described the biosecurity activities that Agriculture Victoria would carry out in response to pests or pathogens of grapevines and advised growers to report anything unusual via the national hotline or by using the online form on their website. Early reporting is crucial to national plant biosecurity as the ability to eradicate depends on catching the pest or disease before it spreads.

Dr Carolyn Blomley, PHA’s Acting Manager EPPRD, highlighted PHA’s role in preparing for an incursion of exotic grapevine pests and diseases and explained how the national emergency response arrangements would be activated under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) to eradicate an exotic pest or disease. Participants were introduced to some of the High Priority Pests (HPPs) identified in the Grapevine Biosecurity Plan and the resources available to help growers better mitigate risk through the adoption of improved vineyard biosecurity practices. The availability of Owner Reimbursement Costs (ORCs) for eligible growers who have had their crops or property damaged by emergency response actions was explained. Owner Reimbursement Costs are a key part of the EPPRD and are designed to encourage early reporting of suspected Emergency Plant Pests.

The workshop was well attended by wine and table grape growers from Mildura and Swan Hill, grapevine nurseries and representatives from the Australian Table Grape Association. A second workshop was held at AgriBio, La Trobe University, in Melbourne, targeting winegrape growers from the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula.

New mobile app to record tree pests

A new mobile app, MyPestGuide® Trees, is available to industry, government, and citizen scientists, empowering all to easily identify and report invasive pests and diseases that could threaten our native, plantation and urban forests.

While many potentially damaging pests and diseases exist overseas, Australia has robust biosecurity measures in place to mitigate these risks. Even so, exotic pests and diseases can and do occasionally reach our shores and can damage our environment, including Australia’s trees and forests.

Australia’s trees and forests provide a diverse array of economic, cultural, environmental, and amenity benefits. The forest, wood and paper products sector is Australia’s sixth largest manufacturing industry. Forestry contributes $9.2 billion to the Australian economy.

The MyPestGuide® Trees mobile phone app is designed to promote, encourage, and make it easy for everyone to get involved in identifying and reporting pests sightings in trees in your backyard, street, parks or local bushland.

The app allows users to filter exotic environmental and plant pests using various criteria to identify causal organisms and, if required, submit images of pests to their state or territory agriculture department for identification. The use of the app will assist in the early detection of new and exotic pests, potentially allowing for timely eradication of new and potentially damaging incursions.

“The MyPestGuide Trees app is a pest identification field guide containing information on established and exotic forest pests, as well as a pest reporting tool,” said Paco Tovar, Forest Biosecurity Manager at the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA).

“By using the MyPestGuide® Trees app, members of the public are helping Australia to gather data to build a comprehensive understanding of the forest pests in Australia and help support early detection of exotic forest pests,” said Dr Lucy Tran-Nguyen, PHA’s General Manager, Partnerships and Innovation.

Everyone has a role to play in protecting Australia against harmful pests and diseases, so if you spot anything unusual on a tree or observe something you are unsure about, use the application which is available for free download via the Apple App Store® or Google Play™ as well as a web-based version or call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

The MyPestGuide® TREES mobile application was developed through funding from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s Environmental Biosecurity Office and Forest Wood Products Australia. Plant Health Australia also gratefully acknowledges the expertise provided by Australian Forest Products Association, agriculture departments from different states and territories, forest sector organisations, and university experts.

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Following the app’s recent release, PHA’s CEO Sarah Corcoran spoke to ABC Rural South Australia on the importance of Australian forest health and building a better national picture through citizen and industry data collection.

Listen to the recording below.