Biosecurity is the ongoing process of protecting Australia’s primary industries and natural environment from exotic pests and diseases; it relies on contributions from individuals, industry and governments.
Pests and diseases that put plant production at risk can enter Australia via movement of people, movement of cargo or via natural pathways such as cyclones and monsoonal winds. The Federal Government conducts activities that protect Australia pre border. Post border, the responsibility is shared by Federal, State and Territory governments, plant industries and producers.
The citrus industry is a signatory to the Emergency Plant Pest and Disease Response Deed (EPPRD). The EEPRD is an agreement between government and industry to share the management and cost of responses to emergency plant pest (EPP) incidents. The Plant Health Australia website has extensive information on industry related biosecurity plans and response information, as well as biosecurity training for producers and the wider public.
Citrus Australia actively supports our biosecurity system through advocacy, engagement with state and federal government, and through project delivery, which focuses on awareness, education and surveillance.
Whilst Citrus Australia supports the National Biosecurity Strategy, and it forms part of Citrus Australia’s biosecurity strategic direction, it does not go far enough in some areas of concern for the Australian citrus industry and horticulture more broadly.
Mandatory registration of citrus nurseries
Australian Governments should make mandatory the registration of nurseries producing citrus. This should extend to a minimum level of traceability within the nursery processes and include forward and backward tracing capability.
Australian governments should ban online sales of citrus material (trees, budwood, rootstock) by retail or other nursery types unless the material is from a certified clean budwood scheme and the reseller is registered.
The nursery system plays a vital part in producing healthy trees for the citrus industry – it is in most cases the primary source for plant material. The nursery industry must recognise the significant risk to its customers, in particular the citrus industry.
Many diseases are graft transmissible, meaning they can be spread during the normal practices conducted in the nursery system. Examples of pest and disease spread within the nursery system to industries is documented internationally and in Australia. The citrus canker outbreak in 2018 made clear the part that the nursery industry played in distributing infested plants to households in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The low level of traceability in that case exposed issues the citrus industry faced when attempting to account for individual trees that may have been exposed to the pathogen.
History tells us that in every industry affected by an incursion of Huanglongbing and/or the Asian Citrus Psyllid, governments have acted to enforce mandatory registration of nurseries. Citrus Australia and the citrus industry hold the view that mandatory registration of nurseries prior to the incursion of such pests would aid in the development and timely implementation of a response plan and provide efficiencies in the management and containment of pests should they become established. Good traceability starts with knowing where the citrus trees are produced.
Detection resources and technology to match the increased threat of exotic pest incursions
Citrus Australia expects the Australian Government to provide appropriate levels of investment in technology and resources in line with the increasing risk associated with international passenger arrivals and cargo. The current level of skilled staffing in international airports and seaports, and investment into more sensitive detection technologies, is inadequate to identify high risk passengers or cargo, and to detect and intercept risk material. This inadequacy will become more apparent as global trade and transit continues to grow.
In 2019 it was estimated that by 2025 shipping and container arrivals would double and passenger arrivals would increase by 75%. Yet the funding for border surveillance has not received a corresponding increase in budget to support inspection and compliance activities in line with increased risk. Since 2019 the horticulture industry has dealt with a number of incursions, such as Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which has been found in non-agricultural cargo a number of times. In cases where a national response is necessary affected primary industries shoulder part of the cost of resolving and managing the impact of a risk that they did not create.
The costs to industry and government of an exotic pest incursion response under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed, which is often much higher than preventative activities, is born by primary industry and government rather than the risk creator. In many instances eradication is not feasible, leading to increased management costs, loss of premium markets, loss of jobs and ultimately impacted industry viability.
Enforcement of laws and appropriate penalties
Citrus Australia expects the Australian Government to enforce compliance of biosecurity laws and;
Expects penalties for breaking biosecurity laws to be revised so they are commensurate with the risk created to industry and the rural communities it supports.
Despite a review in 2019 the penalties for infringements are inadequate and do not reflect the opportunity cost of losing a primary industry in a region due to careless or intentional actions by passengers arriving in Australia.
Research expertise for industry viability
Citrus Australia expects all Australian governments to address the risk of lost expertise and resourcing in the plant health sciences and to invest in both applied and blue-sky research.
Biosecurity responses rely on the expertise of researchers – however state and federal governments have cut budgets for the agriculture and primary industry departments for decades. The citrus industry needs succession plans for retiring researchers, longer contracts for researchers and a pathway, other than academia, for researchers to progress in their career – thus aiding retention of expertise and skills.
The citrus industry is a $500 million export industry with farm gate value estimated at close to $1 billion. In terms of research effort and capacity, our industry is under serviced for its size and importance in Australia. There are many endemic pests and diseases on which researchers could work to develop appropriate skill sets and knowledge. They could also be working on industry preparedness and be available to support biosecurity responses.
National Plant Biosecurity Strategy
Citrus Australia supports The National Plant Biosecurity Strategy (NPBS) developed by Plant Health Australia (PHA) on behalf of its members and Citrus Australia is in close consultation with stakeholders across Australia’s plant biosecurity system.
Ten strategies have been formulated to respond to the challenges currently facing the system. These are to:
- Adopt nationally consistent plant biosecurity legislation, regulations and approaches where possible within each state and territory government’s overarching legislative framework
- Establish a nationally coordinated surveillance system
- Build Australia’s ability to prepare for, and respond to, pest incursions
- Expand Australia’s plant biosecurity training capacity and capability
- Create a nationally integrated diagnostic network
- Enhance national management systems for established pests
- Establish an integrated national approach to plant biosecurity education and awareness
- Develop a national framework for plant biosecurity research
- Adopt systems and mechanisms for the efficient and effective distribution, communication and uptake of plant biosecurity information
- Monitor the integrity of the plant biosecurity system
Resources and latest news
For grower resources on biosecurity, including updates on Citrus Canker, and links to the latest news, view our Industry page on Biosecurity.
Photo credit for header image: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.com