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Recognise danger signs to protect crops and industry

WA Grains Biosecurity Officer Jeff Russell inspecting a wheat crop for the presence of any unusual pests.
Photo: Plant Health Australia

Exotic plant pests and diseases can devastate the grains industry, destroy food production and agriculture industries, and even change life as we know it.

The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry estimates that the top 40 exotic pests and diseases could cost the broadacre and horticulture crop industries up to $29.3 billion in losses and put jobs at risk.

Learning how to recognise the signs of damaging pests and diseases is probably the most important tool in on-farm biosecurity practices and is crucial to protecting crops and Australia’s grains industry.

You might be familiar with a story that has historically been shared at plant pest identification training courses, of how the United States Department of Treasury trained its operations staff to detect counterfeit money by visually inspecting large volumes of authentic tender frequently to familiarise them with ‘normal’ cash notes. This led to staff having the ability to immediately spot anything unusual and raise the alarm.

The same process can be applied to the visual assessment of crop pests that grain growers and agronomists might encounter during the growing season. By becoming familiar with the signs of ‘normal’ crop pests, anything observed that is considered out of the ordinary can be immediately identified and tested promptly.

Australia’s geographic isolation as an island nation has traditionally afforded it protection from high-risk grain pests that have not yet been introduced from overseas. However, biosecurity management does not stop at Australia’s ports and airports and must be considered across the entire supply chain, including daily farming activities.

Maintaining Australia’s protection from exotic pests and diseases takes vigilance and requires the cooperation of everyone in the industry. Inspecting crops and looking out for anything unusual on your property is as important to maintaining biosecurity as border inspections carried out by federal and state biosecurity staff.

Keeping a property free of pests has a cumulative effect, helping neighbouring farms, local regions and the wider grains industry remain free from exotic pests, weeds and diseases.

Report anything unusual

By being close to paddocks or visiting crops regularly, growers, consultants and researchers are on the biosecurity front line and could be the first to notice suspicious signs and symptoms of exotic pests and diseases in crops.

If you spot anything unusual, it is important to report it immediately to the relevant state or territory agriculture agency through the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline (1800 084 881), as early reporting increases the chance of effective control and eradication.

Growers who call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline will be directed to an experienced person in the department of agriculture relevant to the state or territory, who will ask questions about what has been seen and may arrange to collect a sample. The Exotic Plant Pest Hotline is a free service, and every report is investigated and treated confidentially.

If you do come across any unusual pest, it is important to not move or collect infected plant material without first seeking advice through the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline and/or the relevant state/territory department. Incorrect handling of samples could spread a disease or pest and render samples unsuitable for diagnoses.

Confirm location

You will be asked to confirm the location the unusual pest was observed and where the sample was taken from, to accurately mark the site for follow-up surveillance and to enable easy recognition. Officers from the agricultural department in your state or territory will contact you should further sampling be required to identify the pest or disease.

Another helpful resource is the MyPestGuide Reporter® app, which is available for use in every Australian state and territory. This is a free photo reporting app built for the public, farmers, agronomists, landholders, pest controllers, researchers and the entire industry to quickly and easily report pests (including insects, animals, weeds and diseases) across Australia.

Users create reports using the device’s camera and GPS, then describe the pest and its surroundings, provide contact details and submit their reports. The department’s experts will then verify the report, identify the pest, map it and – most importantly – provide the user with feedback and advice.

The Grains Farm Biosecurity Program (GFBP) offers an online hub of industry-specific biosecurity resources and tools that is designed with growers in mind. Here you will find easy-to-use fact sheets of pests and diseases to look out for, as well as videos, how-to guides, online training and strategies to manage on-farm biosecurity risks.

Launched in 2007, the program is managed by Plant Health Australia and funded by growers through Grain Producers Australia. 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.

More information: Plant Health Australia; MyPestGuide Reporter.

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