Plant biosecurity forum identifies opportunities for cross-sectoral research

July 20, 2016

Around 90 people gathered in Melbourne for two days last week to identify ways to maximise the benefits of scientific research for Australia’s crop producers, with a particular emphasis on projects on pests that attack more than one crop.

Participants at the Plant Biosecurity RD&E Priorities Forum, held at Agribio, identified the top cross sectoral priorities for research in Australia as well as ways to improve the plant biosecurity RD&E system.

The forum, opened by Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford, featured presentations from a number of high profile figures in plant biosecurity, providing expert views on the current RD&E requirements of Australia’s plant biosecurity system.

Lyn O’Connell, Deputy Secretary from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, spoke about the risk posed by the exotic bacterial pest Xylella fastidiosa, which has spread around the world affecting over 200 plant species, and the significant benefits of preventing exotic pest incursions wherever possible.

Lois Ransom, the Chair of the International Plant Protection Convention Bureau of Phytosanitary Measures, explained the biosecurity needs of global markets and how getting domestic treatments aligned with international standards would help exporters.

Tania Chapman, Chair of the Voice of Horticulture, spoke on the vast opportunities that await Australia’s crop farmers in Asia and India that could potentially allow exports of produce to increase ten-fold. Ms Chapman also called for an improved capability in diagnostic and surveillance expertise in Australia.

Doug Phillips from Australian Banana Growers Council provided his perspective on the recent exotic pest incursions that have affected his industry: banana freckle and Panama tropical race 4.  Susan Maas from the Cotton Research and Development Corporation recounted the research needs of the cotton industry following new disease incursions over the last three decades.

The National Plant Biosecurity RD&E Strategy Implementation Committee sponsored the meeting. According to the Chair, Greg Fraser, who is also Executive Director and CEO of Plant Health Australia, the forum was a resounding success.

“Bringing together representatives from industry, governments, the research funders and the scientists themselves was very valuable,” Mr Fraser said.

“The forum identified areas where cross-sectoral research could benefit multiple industries which will help to maximise the benefits from investments in future research.”

Mr Fraser said that in addition, some specific areas of activity to improve research outcomes were identified. These included establishing diagnostic expert groups for key pests, real time surveillance for high priority pests and development of preparedness plans for Xylella and other high priority pests that can affect multiple crops.