Dress rehearsal for grain pest emergency

August 24, 2015

In the event of an incursion of an exotic pest of grain crops in Australia, rapid response is vital to limit the spread and minimise the impact on the grains industry and wider community. Much will hinge on the ability to get clear messages out quickly.

That ability is precisely what was rehearsed in Melbourne this week when around 40 participants met for the first activity of Exercise Haryana, run by the coordinators of the plant biosecurity partnership in Australia, Plant Health Australia (PHA).

The assembled experts in communications, biosecurity policy, and grain production and processing from both industry organisations and governments were presented with a simulated scenario of a detection of the wheat fungal disease, Karnal bunt, in South Australia. Together they considered how all the stakeholders would work together in getting messages out that would support an emergency response.

Exercise coordinator, Dr Stephen Dibley from PHA, said that the three activities of Exercise Haryana were important to boost preparedness for an exotic pest of the grains industry.

“Grains is the largest plant industry in Australia, and a major export crop that makes a significant contribution to our economy,” Dr Dibley said.

“Karnal bunt is a serious pest of grains. It doesn’t have any effect on human health, but if it was found here it would significantly reduce our ability to sell grains.”

“Communication would be critical in the event of a real incursion because we’d need to impose immediate movement restrictions for grain and machinery – we’d need to get messages out fast,” he added.

The communications exercise was complex to arrange. PHA worked with Grain Producers Australia, Primary Industries and Regions South Australia, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transports and Resources (DEDJTR), the Western Australia Department of Food and Agriculture, Viterra and the Grains Industry Market Access Forum to plan the scenario.

On the day there were even more stakeholders involved, with Grains Producers South Australia, QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Grain Corp, GBH Group, Grains RDC, as well as Australian Pork, the Australian Egg Corporation, Stock Feed Manufacturers’ Council and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation all attending the workshop.

“It was great to have input from the animal industries,” said Dr Dibley.

“Intensive livestock production relies on regular shipments of grain and grain based products to feed animals, so their industries would quickly feel the impact of any movement restrictions applied in a situation like this.”

Dr Dibley said that the day had been a success, considerably improving our ability to communicate with everyone who would need to know about a Karnal bunt incursion.

Participants at the workshop also had the chance to see the DEDJTR Incident Control Centre, which would swing into action in the event of a plant pest emergency affecting parts of Victoria.

The second and third activities of Exercise Haryana, which will be held over the next 12 months, will explore the ability to rapidly identify where the disease may have spread and seek national agreement on the most effective response strategies.