Virtual ADSW 2023 brings surveillance and diagnostic practitioners together

The National Implementation Working Group (NIWG), Plant Surveillance Network Working Group (PSNWG), and PHA presented the virtual Annual Diagnostic and Surveillance Workshop (ADSW) 2023 on Friday, 6 October 2023.

Over 130 National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic Network (NPBDN) and Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific (PSNAP) members from across the Australasia-Pacific region joined the two-and a-half-hour online event in what was a great opportunity for engaged surveillance and diagnostic professionals to present and discuss topical issues in the plant biosecurity space.

A highlight of the workshop was hearing from practitioners across the spectrum of plant biosecurity.

Jordan Bailey from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) Plant Pathology and Mycology Herbarium, shared the value of our national plant health reference collections and the vital role they play in protecting our plant biosecurity, as well as providing official and verifiable records for pest status.

“The first plant pathogen genome was actually assembled from a herbarium specimen in 1998, so we’ve been doing it for quite a while. And what that means is we can time travel right through these collections. We can go back in time and look at how they’re evolving to fungicide use, pesticide use, how they’re adapting to climate change, land management, different cultivars that we’re using, how they’re responding etc. There’s just this huge wealth of knowledge locked away in these collections,” Jordan said.

Following this was a series of talks from 2023 NPBDN residential recipients. Elisse Nogarotto from Agriculture Victoria, presented the newly installed MALDI-TOF biotyper at AgriBio that is used for bacterial identification. This new platform was installed in August 2023 and uses matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization to identify bacteria using the unique proteomic fingerprint of an organism, which is then matched to profile markers in a reference library.

Rebecca Roach from Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries presented on her residential, that focuses on plant pathogenic Agrobacterium and Rhizobium species. She emphasised the challenges facing diagnosticians, including difficulty in isolating the pathogens, how the taxonomic changes can complicate sequence analysis and how the current diagnostic assays were time consuming and prone to false positives. The outcomes of the residential are to facilitate additional study of collected isolates, share positive control material, run all controls with current assays for validation and investigate other diagnostic tools. Both Elisse and Rebecca plan to visit’s residentials will be done together at NSW DPI and will be aligning their visits to overlap to provide samples for each others residentials, perfectly emphasising this year’s theme of “Implementation through connections”.

Gus McFarlane from NSW DPI who talked about CRISPR-based diagnostic techniques, which are based on DNA or RNA and have the potential to provide rapid, in-field detections providing visual readouts in less than one hour, and multiplexed diagnostics that are capable of screening for thousands of targets in a single test. This technology has been successfully used to establish a five-plex Cas12 test for identifying five high priority plant pathogens, including banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). Gus will be visiting the Plant Innovation Centre (PIC) in Victoria.

Nga Tran from the University of Queensland then presented her residential, which focusses on producing draft National Diagnostic Protocols (NDPs) for avocado scab and laurel wilt, for which no International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) diagnostic protocols currently exist. Nga will be visiting the Plant Diagnostic Clinic at The University of Florida.

The final residential was presented by Lilia Carvalhais from the University of Queensland on behalf of herself and Kathy Crew from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, on improving the detection protocols of banana wilt associated phytoplasmas for post-entry quarantine indexing.  Phytoplasmas are wall-less obligate intracellular bacteria that are vectored by leafhoppers, planthoppers and psyllids, with some species infecting banana, coconut, and betelnut palms in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The objective of the residential was to improve the sampling protocol for phytoplasma indexing of banana germplasm. Lilia and Kathy’s residential visit will be done at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Papua New Guinea.

Plant Health Australia’s (PHA) Manager, Diagnostics Rachel Mann discussed development process for National Diagnostic Protocols (NDPs) and National Surveillance Protocols (NSPs) for National Priority Plant Pests (NPPPs), Exotic Environmental Pests (EEPs) and High Priority Plant Pests (HPPs). Currently there are 50 endorsed and 74 draft NDPs in contrast with three endorsed and 13 draft NSPs.

Rachel called for more PSNAP and NPBDN members to consider authoring national protocols and including them in their project milestones.

“Authoring national protocols gives you an opportunity to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system, build your expertise and gain recognition as a national expert, as all endorsed National Diagnostic Protocols are published with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Be on the lookout for opportunities on the PSNAP and NPBDN network or get in touch with the Protocols Coordinator or,” she said.

Dr Will Cuddy from NSW DPI introduced NPBDN and PSNAP members to the National Grains Diagnostic and Surveillance Initiative, a five-year project designed to address the growing biosecurity risks facing the Australian grains industry.

“Incursion control and trade impacts cost the industry an average of $100 million per event. With less than 10% of the 54 high priority exotic plant pests having endorsed National Diagnostic Protocols, the program’s objective is to modernise diagnostics through molecular methods and research for near real-time identification of biotic threats and to develop diagnostic standards” he said.

Carlos Babativa Rodriguez from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia (DPIRD WA) spoke about how geospatial plant ground-truthing for UAVs aids ground-level surveillance for plant pests, in particular, skeleton weed in WA.

“Aerial search via drone removes fire and cross-contamination risks, yields consistent and accurate auditable records and is considerably more cost effective for area coverage. AI and advances in technology will continue to make the analysis of the resulting terabytes of data more practical, making weed and pest data collection faster and easier than ever before,” he said.

Abel Ximenes from the DNQB-Plant Quarantine International Airport Nicolau Lobato Comoro then presented a case study on the assessment of the Khapra Beetle infestation in Timor Leste. The objective of the survey was to find out the types of insect pests that attack rice commodities in private sector and government warehouses in Timor-Leste and was conducted in eight districts. The survey results revealed that there were eight types of insect pests on rice commodities in these municipalities, including Sitophilus oryzae, Tribolium castaneum, Cryptoleste Pusillus, Oryzaephilus surinamensis, Ahasverus, Lasioderma, Rhyzopertha dominica, Trogoderma grasnarium.

Finally, Dr Sharyn Taylor, PHA’s Manager, Surveillance, presented on the Nationally Integrated Surveillance System for Plant Pests (NISSPP) program, a project that has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to identify ways to improve delivery and resourcing for surveillance now and into the future.

“Building new systems or improving our biosecurity systems, we need to make them fair, transparent and equitable, which will be a major challenge for us. However, there’s an opportunity for us to improve visibility in terms of who are the beneficiaries of these programs, which can involve a wider range of stakeholders outside of government and industry, including major retailers and tourism companies,” Sharyn said.

Rachel concluded the workshop with a call for network members to register their expressions of interest to attend the upcoming Annual Diagnostic Workshop (ADW) 2024 and Annual Surveillance Workshop (ASW) 2024, to be held during the week of 18 March 2024. The ADW and ASW 2024 events are exclusive to PSNAP and NPBDN members and expressions of interest close 23 October. Find out more by visiting or

The National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic and Surveillance Professional Development and Protocols Project is coordinated and delivered by Plant Health Australia and is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The objectives of the Project are to enhance and strengthen Australia’s diagnostic and surveillance capacity and capability to identify priority plant pests that impact on plant industries, environment and the community.

Message from the CEO – October 2023

Welcome to the fourth quarter of 2023 and another exciting edition of Tendrils!

Late last month, I travelled with our Board to the Northern Territory for Board Meeting (BM) 112 hosted in the offices of the Northern Australia Development Office (NADO) in Darwin. The agenda included national and organisational strategy, finance, budgeting and related policy, a review of corporate risk, policy and auditing, Membership applications, and preparations for our 23rd Annual General Meeting (AGM), 36th Plant Industry Forum and second meeting of the Government Members Forum formed earlier this year. While in Darwin, the Board took the opportunity to visit key sites and facilities in the region to better understand the area of operation, biosecurity practices and contemporary research and advancements in the field.

During the same period, the National Management Group (NMG) confirmed the eradication of Varroa destructor (Varroa mite) is no longer technically feasible as advised by the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) and as a result, the response has transitioned to management. We acknowledge the efforts of the New South Wales Government and affected Parties since June 2022, to eliminate the pest. Both government and industry representatives have worked tirelessly to guide response efforts. We now await the CCEPP’s updated response plan (including a transition to management activities) to ensure we continue to work together to manage Varroa mite, which continues to pose a significant threat to Australia’s honey and honey bee pollination reliant plant industries.

Earlier this month, I attended the National Biosecurity Committee meeting in Brisbane where we visited the insect collection at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. While admiring the pinned collection I noticed specimens of the exotic Lymantria dispar (spongy moth). I was amazed to find they were specimens I reared from eggs to adults in state-of-the-art biosecurity containment laboratories 21 years ago when I was working as an operational entomologist at the border. Our reference collections are invaluable and critical to national biosecurity, and I’m proud to have contributed. The specimens were in good shape too – not moth eaten at all!

Government, industry, and community all have a role to play in preventing and managing the harm caused by pests and weeds, and earlier this month my appointment to the Victorian Invasive Pests Advisory (VIPA) Board was confirmed by Katherine Clift, Executive Director of Biosecurity Victoria. The VIPA Board promotes collective action and shared responsibility as the key to managing established pests and weeds in line with Victoria’s Biosecurity Statement and I look forward to participating in the first meeting of the Board in November.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Parliamentary Friends of Biosecurity event. The group formalised through the Decade of Biosecurity and co-chaired by Andrew Willcox MP and Senator Linda White, will ensure biosecurity remains a priority for policy makers and is a significant step in recognition that biosecurity is everyone’s business.

In company news, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research’s (ACIAR) application for Associate Membership was approved by the Board, effective from 1 October 2023.

Earlier this year, a strategic merger between Onions Australia and AUSVEG was announced. Under Clause 14.4 of the PHA Constitution, the PHA Board has approved AUSVEG to represent onions as a crop effective from 1 February 2024.

From 1 October 2023, the updated Rubus industry statutory levy came into effect. This follows the successful vote by levy payers to amend their statutory levy from 10c/kg for research and development (R&D) and 2c/kg for marketing, to 2c/kg for R&D, 2c/kg Plant Health Australia (PHA) levy, and 0c/kg for marketing.

The Board selection process has progressed well and more information on the nominees will be available in the AGM papers.

A key outcome of BM 112 was the approval of the 2022-23 Annual Report. A digital version is now available for download on the PHA website. This year’s report is the first in the implementation of PHA’s 2022-27 Strategic Plan. Delivered in a fresh new format, the Annual Report describes the achievements, challenges and progress made against key performance indicators as set out in the 2023-24 Annual Operational Plan to coordinate and strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system. Once again, the PHA team has performed well, diligently delivering value to our Members.

PHA’s team is growing and I’m excited to announce three new staff members joined us in October. Welcome to Lorissa McCosh, Training Coordinator, Kirsten Shultz and Ashley Thomson, Governance and Corporate Support Officers. Read more about them in the Staff movement section of Tendrils.

This week we celebrate 18 years of the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) and the unique and valuable partnership it brings for plant industries and all of Australia’s governments. Co-design, co-funding and joint decision making are key features of the EPPRD that allows parties to stand side by side in response to exotic incursions and deliver priority outcomes. Happy birthday EPPRD!

Sarah Corcoran

CEO, Plant Health Australia

The September issue of the Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific newsletter is out now.

The Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific (PSNAP) allows those working in all aspects of surveillance for plant pests to access and share information. The network was established to strengthen surveillance capacity and capability across the Australasia-Pacific region.

Plant pest surveillance activities are critical to productive agricultural sector and the biosecurity systems that protect them. Surveillance activities provide benefits to agricultural industries, the community and the environment.

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

Read the September 2023 issue.

Annual Diagnostics Workshop and Annual Surveillance Workshop 2024

Planning has commenced for the Annual Diagnostics Workshop (ADW) and the Annual Surveillance Workshop (ASW) 2024, which will be held as two separate events during the week of 18 March 2024 at the Twin Towns Conference Centre, 2 Wharf Street, Tweed Heads, NSW 2485.

The ADW and ASW events provide the opportunity for the National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic Network (NPBDN) and Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific (PSNAP) members to improve their skills, exchange tips and techniques, share knowledge, and to network with colleagues.


A call for abstracts for both ADW and ASW is now open to all NPBDN and PSNAP members. The abstract should be a maximum of 350 words (not including title, authors or organisations), and be submitted no later than 16 October 2023.

Abstracts are being sought from all NPBDN and PSNAP members including those from industry, universities, research and development corporations, government and research institutions. All abstracts will be reviewed by the Network Implementation Working Group (NIWG) and the Plant Surveillance Network Working Group (PSNWG), with successful abstracts confirmed early December 2023.

ADW abstracts must address the theme “Challenges of unculturables and their vectors”. Submit your abstract via the Abstracts and EOI registration link below.

ASW abstracts must address the theme “Surveillance in remote locations: challenges, solutions and incorporating community engagement”. Submit your abstract via the Abstracts and EOI registration link below.


Members who do not intend to submit an abstract are still welcome to attend ASW or ADW 2024. Please submit your expression of interest to attend via the Abstracts and EOI registration link below no later than 16 October 2023.


Activity Date
Call for abstracts open Monday 18 September 2023
EOI to attend ADW or ASW open Monday 18 September 2023
Abstract submissions close Monday 16 October 2023
EOI to attend ADW or ASW close Monday 16 October 2023
Notification of approval of successful abstracts by NIWG and PSNWG Monday 4 December 2023
Registrations and travel applications to attend ADW/ASW open Monday 4 December 2023
Registrations and travel applications close Monday 22 January 2024
ADW/ASW events Week commencing 18 March 2024



  • Travel and one night of accommodation will be provided for confirmed participants (NPBDN and PSNAP members only).
  • Staff of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) are not eligible for travel funds and are encouraged to submit an EOI and consult their internal manager regarding travel arrangements.

For further information contact or


Message from the CEO – September 2023



Hi, I’m Sarah Corcoran, CEO of Plant Health Australia (PHA).

Welcome to the 200th edition of Tendrils – celebrating 10 years of monthly plant biosecurity news conveniently delivered to your inbox.

The inaugural edition of Tendrils was first published in 2013 – a light edition with only two articles. By 2015 Australia’s biosecurity controls became stricter, regulated by the Biosecurity Act 2015, and it became an important channel for PHA to share plant biosecurity news and developments with our members on a regular monthly basis.

Tendrils has certainly come a long way since its first edition. As our strategic focus adapted to new biosecurity challenges, so did the newsletter content and design.

Thank you to our more than 1,730 subscribers for reading Tendrils. Whether you’re a member, producer, researcher, student, working in government and policy or supply chain, or just curious about bolstering Australia’s plant health, we appreciate your support.

I am also delighted to announce that we reached 5,000 followers on LinkedIn this month, a testament to our commitment to growing our professional network. Since January this year, PHA gained more than 1,450 new followers. We consistently work to improve our content and analyse engagement metrics to see what resonates with our audience. Our content strategy is based on providing valuable content, sharing insights, knowledge and resources that are important to our community. We are keen to grow our community even further, so if you haven’t yet, please follow us on LinkedIn at @PlantHealthAustralia.

Once again, this edition of Tendrils contains a wide variety of stories covering agriculture, horticulture and biosecurity.

Happy reading!

National consultation complete

Consultation has continued to inform development of the National Action Plan for Pests of Timber and Trees and its implementation schedule, with two workshops held in Canberra on 25 July and 30 August 2023.

Delivered by Plant Health Australia (PHA) as part of a project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), over 50 people attended across the two workshops from a range of stakeholder groups including government, community, industry, universities and research institutions.

PHA will use feedback from the workshops to prepare a draft plan and implementation schedule which will be made available to stakeholders for further consultation through DAFF’s Have Your Say platform.

For further information about the project please contact

Improving biosecurity preparedness for the avocado industry

Avocados Australia is leading a multi- faceted biosecurity project which aims to improve the biosecurity preparedness of the Australian avocado industry by implementing effective preparedness and prevention strategies and building response capability.

Key partners in the project are the Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD WA), Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF), the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) and Plant Health Australia (PHA).

During August, a workshop focusing on improving Avocado Industry On-Farm Biosecurity Practices was held at EcoSciences in Brisbane. The workshop saw the project team and guest speakers offering valuable insights to underpin discussions centred with and around growers on the adoption of on-farm biosecurity. Participants worked collaboratively to highlight on-farm biosecurity practices aimed at reducing the risk of incursions of high-priority biosecurity pests.

Additionally, discussions on grower appropriate resources and tools, extension ideas and adoption strategies were also undertaken. The key outcomes from this workshop will provide a roadmap for the project on what growers need from industry efforts (resources and extension) to support adoption of on-farm biosecurity practices.

Boosting the Fall armyworm knowledge bank

Australia’s fall armyworm (FAW) knowledge bank has been given a boost through the release of four project reports arising from the latest research and development. Project summaries and the full technical reports are now available to industry, governments and the R&D community through Plant Health Australia’s (PHA) website.

The four projects cover the areas of:

  1. genomic insight of FAW movement in Australia
  2. understanding the key market drivers that will underpin the development of an Insecticide Resistance Management Strategy for FAW
  3. surveying and testing locally occurring insect viruses for use in FAW management, and
  4. rapid real-time simulation of wind-assisted long-ranged dispersal of FAW in Australia.

Following the first detection of FAW in Australia in early 2020, the Australian Government provided a grant to PHA to fill some of the R&D gaps for the management of FAW.

Stuart Kearns, National Manager for Preparedness and RD&E at PHA, said the four projects supported through this work targeted specific gaps in knowledge identified through a National R&D forum.

“PHA hosted a forum, that brought all the stakeholders ‘together’ to help us identify the gaps in our knowledge on how to manage this new pest,” he said.

Held virtually whilst in the grasps of the first of many COVID-19 related lockdowns across the country, entomologists from the various affected states and technical experts from research organisations, governments and affected industries were brought together online to help develop a national management plan and decide on research projects.

High-throughput sequencing (HTS) scoping completed

High-throughput sequencing (HTS) technologies offer a rapid, reliable and cost-efficient diagnostic platform to identify pests and pathogens in a single test, increasing Australia’s diagnostic capacity, and delivering rapid, more accurate results. HTS generates massive datasets, and the increasing amount of data being generated on plant pests and pathogens has emphasised the need for a secure, centralised platform that allows the submission, sharing and analysis of standardised HTS data.

Phase 1 of the project was funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) under its Biosecurity Innovation Program. Plant Health Australia (PHA) is now seeking collaborators to be involved in Phase 2 of the project which is to build the database and make it operational.

Phase 1 aimed to develop an agreed foundation for the design and scope of a central, secure and private online location to hold trusted genome sequences for National Priority Plant Pests, industry high priority pests and trade sensitive established pests to support emergency responses, area freedom and relevant research.

The project involved consulting widely with stakeholders to develop not only a proposed architecture for the database, but also to seek agreement on governance arrangements and data standards. PHA convened three workshops as part of this process. The attendees at the workshops included members of the Subcommittee on Plant Health Diagnostics (SPHD) as well as other officers from States and Territories, members of the National Biosecurity Committee’s HTS working group, SPHD’s HTS working group, CSIRO, Bioplatforms Australia, universities, peak bodies, research and development corporations, and the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative.

To create awareness, a presentation on the proposed HTS database was delivered at the Annual Diagnostics and Surveillance Workshop in May this year, and a presentation will also be delivered at the Australasian Plant Pathology Society Conference, in Adelaide in November 2023.

To discuss potential collaboration opportunities and for further information please contact PHA’s Cheryl Grgurinovic or Lucy Tran-Nguyen.

The importance of PaDIL for diagnostics

PHA Project Officer, Evie Kielnhofer, recently met with Pia Scanlon (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, WA (DPIRD)) and Dr Ken Walker (Museums Victoria) – both of whom are respected, longstanding contributors and supporters of the Pest and Disease Image Library (PaDIL).

A scientific identification tool, PaDIL is an online database containing high-quality diagnostic images and information tools designed to assist agronomists, biosecurity officers, diagnosticians and researchers both in Australia and overseas.

Pia has extensive imaging and photographic experience supported by her expertise in entomology. In consultation with her taxonomist colleagues at DPIRD, Pia has made significant image contributions to PaDIL over the course of over 17 years. She provided technical insight into her imaging setup and identified broader trends in the specialised field of imaging biological specimens. She also expressed how improvements in photographic equipment can directly translate into enhanced resolution of images contributed to PaDIL, supporting its mission to provide high quality diagnostic images for biodiversity and biosecurity. She emphasised the importance of access to data and information to safeguard Australia’s industries and environment to triage and diagnose exotic pests and diseases.

Dr Ken Walker is a Senior Curator of Entomology who has worked at Museums Victoria since 1981, with a passion for combining taxonomy with technology to increase accessibility of accurate diagnostic information for biosecurity specialists. He has been a strong national advocate for using emerging technologies to build connections between entomologists, insect collections and researchers, diagnosticians, crop scouts, and the public. Ken generously provided an engaging, behind the scenes tour of Museum Victoria’s wet and dry invertebrate specimen collections held at the Museum, including dry, pinned specimens that have been imaged and contributed personally by Ken to PaDIL. Also on display was Museum Victoria’s newly acquired Triceratops horridus dinosaur skeleton forming part of its continuing commitment to producing engaging scientific exhibits.

Ken’s passion for natural science collections is to be commended, as is his many years of service to supporting the sharing of collection data and shaping the evolution of PaDIL. Ken reflected on his involvement in creating the first iteration of PaDIL – an HTML website with less than 30 species, back in 1997, and how the system has evolved to its present-day modern user interface administered by Plant Health Australia (PHA) with support from Museums Victoria, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia (DPIRD WA).

Evie thanked both Pia and Ken for their ongoing enthusiasm and shared excitement in continuing to work with PHA to ensure PaDIL remains a dynamic and valued diagnostic resource into the future.

Visit PaDIL to experience high-quality diagnostic images and information tools designed to assist agronomists, biosecurity officers, diagnosticians and researchers.