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Good travel hygiene can reduce exotic grain pest threats

Visiting rural properties can increase the risk of an exotic disease or pest entering and becoming established in Australia.
Photo: GRDC

Travellers and goods arriving in Australia can introduce exotic pests and diseases that could harm our health and environment and devastate agricultural industries.

In 2020–21, grain production was valued at approximately $16.5 billion, with exports valued at $12.4 billion. The grains industry accounts for 21 per cent of Australian agriculture’s gross value of production and 16 per cent of agriculture’s export income, making it Australia’s largest plant industry.

International travellers come to Australia for a number of reasons, whether it be to visit family or friends, for recreation and sightseeing, for business or research collaboration including attending conferences or agricultural events such as field days, or as part of a delegation visiting industry members and growers.

Visiting rural properties or grain industry sites could increase the risk of an exotic disease or pest entering and becoming established in Australia. International travellers arriving in Australia can significantly reduce the risk they pose by taking some basic precautions.

Foot and mouth threat

The recent detection of foot and mouth disease in Indonesia has highlighted the importance of international travellers taking biosecurity precautions when entering Australia. Some exotic pests and diseases include weed seeds, fungi, exotic leaf and stem rusts, and soil-borne pests such as exotic fusarium (soil fungi), phytophthoras (water mould) and nematodes (worms).

Grain crop pests, diseases and weeds are potential threats that can enter Australia on footwear and clothing. Fungal spores can survive for more than seven days on clothing and footwear and are known to have entered the country on tourists’ clothing. Insect pests and weed seeds can also be carried on equipment, packaging or baggage.

Anyone travelling or hosting overseas travellers, either for personal or business reasons, has a responsibility to take the necessary precautions to keep exotic pests and diseases out of the country.

As in-person industry conferences ramp up, it is important to keep biosecurity front-of-mind and implement appropriate practices wherever possible.

When attending or organising a conference that includes travel to agricultural areas, it is vital to be aware of the biosecurity requirements for international travellers and best-practice hygiene measures that can reduce the risk of introducing exotic pests and diseases.

Travel tips for international travellers

  • All footwear should be free from dirt and must have been cleaned with soap, water and disinfectant.
  • All clothing must have been washed before coming to Australia.
  • Travellers should have enough clothes to wear clean clothes in each state being visited.
  • Visitors must be aware of special clothing requirements for places being visited, such as long-sleeved garments and enclosed shoes.
  • Travellers must be aware of Australia’s strict quarantine requirements, particularly for food.
  • Travellers need to be aware of the strict quarantine requirements when visiting some livestock facilities.
  • Visitors should restrict unnecessary contact with or entry to production areas of a farm premises.
  • Biosecurity must be considered when returning home.

It is also important that visitors adhere to farm biosecurity signs, which could require notifying the grower on arrival, recording the visit and following instructions to clean any footwear or clothing before entering.

Tips for event organisers

  • Ensure visitors are registered at each event. This can assist in tracing the origin and spread of any new pests or diseases.
  • Travel with a biosecurity kit containing scrubbing brushes, soap, disinfectant and alcohol wipes.
  • If travelling to a number of sites in Australia, consider providing a foot bath for use between sites. If muddy or dusty boots or equipment cannot be cleaned onsite, place them in bags or plastic crates until you reach a place where they can be washed.
  • Ensure any equipment used to collect plant or soil samples is cleaned and disinfected between sites.
  • Ensure vehicles do not enter production or grain storage areas.

When Australians travel overseas and encounter crops or visit farms and agricultural areas, the same biosecurity practices apply. Ensure all clothing and footwear that might have been exposed to pests and diseases on a farm visit, while hiking or during other tourist activities are thoroughly cleaned or discarded before returning to Australia.

Due to the numerous entry pathways highlighted as a risk, keeping the Australian grains industry free of exotic pests and diseases is everyone’s responsibility.

The Grains Farm Biosecurity Program (GFBP) has developed a fact sheet with advice for overseas travellors who plan to visit grain growing regions or properties in Australia. The program also has a fact sheet explaining how to prevent field days and onsite trials from becoming occasions to spread pests and weeds.

The GFBP is an initiative to improve the management of, and preparedness for, biosecurity risks in the grains industry at the farm and industry levels.

Launched in 2007, the program is managed by Plant Health Australia and funded by growers through Grain Producers Australia together with the New South Wales, Queensland, South Australian, Victorian and Western Australian governments.

More information: Grains Farm Biosecurity website.

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