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Nationwide survey provides insights on grain growers’ biosecurity attitudes

Plant Health Australia’s Steve McCutcheon (left) and Greg Fraser were helming the organisation when the national farm biosecurity survey was conducted.
Photo: Plant Health Australia

More Australian producers than ever before have implemented biosecurity practices to protect their properties from diseases, pests and weeds.

That is according to an Australia-wide survey of both crop and livestock producers to track trends in attitudes towards and awareness about farm biosecurity.

This year’s survey conducted phone interviews with 1209 Australian crop and livestock producers, including 280 grain producers (grain specialists and grain/livestock producers).

Conducted between May and June earlier this year and undertaken by independent researchers for the Farm Biosecurity Program, the 2020 survey was designed so that results could be compared with the results from previous surveys done in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

“By undertaking these surveys we hope to gain a better understanding of current knowledge of  biosecurity, what biosecurity practices are being used by producers, and where and how producers like to get information about biosecurity,” says Stuart Kearns, the national manager for preparedness and research, development and extension at Plant Health Australia.

Without any prompting, 54 per cent of grain producers thought of ‘controlling, diseases, pests and weeds’ when they heard the term biosecurity. With the next most common response being ‘good farm management’ at 22 per cent.

This year’s survey also highlighted the important role agronomists and other advisors play for grain growers. For example, 72 per cent of grain producers would ask a private agronomist or adviser to check the identity of an unusual pest or disease.

More generally, 51 per cent of grain producers reported obtaining crop protection and biosecurity information from an agronomist or cropping consultant. This was significantly above average compared to other industries.

“For us, this highlights the importance of communicating not only with grain growers but also their advisers – it is important agronomists know what is unusual and what needs to be reported if a grower comes to them for advice,” Mr Kearns says.

With four surveys covering a decade, clear trends in attitudes towards farm biosecurity and the use of biosecurity practices can also be seen, he says.

“For instance, in the first survey in 2010 only 52 per cent of grain producers reported monitoring stored products, but over the last decade this has risen to 94 per cent of grain producers.

“It has been great to observe this increase in a practice that is so important to ensuring grain quality and freedom from storage pests.”

The surveys also play a practical role by telling us where producers are looking for information, what they want to know and how they like to get it, he says.

“In previous years, the most common information producers were interested in was biosecurity alerts or warnings.

“However, this year saw a shift in interest to information about what the risks are and how to identify them, and where to get information and help when needed.”

The data collected will be used by Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia, which jointly run the Farm Biosecurity Program, to develop strategies that focus on biosecurity awareness in areas the survey indicated might need to be improved.

More information: Farm Biosecurity

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