Rosy end to farmers’ biosecurity push

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
Grains Biosecurity Advisory Committee member and Pingelly farmer Ray Marshall.
Camera IconGrains Biosecurity Advisory Committee member and Pingelly farmer Ray Marshall. Credit: Danella Bevis

WA’s grain industry has led a successful push to tighten biosecurity laws surrounding the importation of cut flowers, with the aim of protecting the State’s $6.5 billion grain crop from devastating pests.

Grower biosecurity representatives on the Grains Biosecurity Advisory Committee were celebrating this month after the Federal Government announced it would put extra safeguards in place for the importation of fresh cut flowers and foliage.

About $70 million worth of flowers landed on Australian shores in 2017-18, up from $63.5 million in the 12 months prior.

Most of the imports hailed from from Kenya, Ecuador and Columbia — countries which have a number of pests not in Australia, including types of thrips, aphids and mites.

From September, countries exporting cut flowers and foliage will be required to manage biosecurity risks on their own shores before the products set sail.

Australian importers will also have to apply for a special import permit from the Federal Government to import cut flowers and foliage from Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador.

Previously, imported cut flowers and foliage could be fumigated on-shore, with methyl bromide, and importers did not need to apply for a import permit.

The changes come after a 2017 review of import conditions found that having one critical control point to manage biosecurity was increasing the risks to Australia.

It also found high rates of pest detections in consignments of imported fresh cut flowers and foliage at the Australian border.

Some countries were failing inspections more than 50 per cent of the time.

GBAC member Ray Marshall, who represents WA Grains Group, said there had been “some holes” in the system, which left the group concerned about the safety of WA’s grain crop.

The Pingelly grain grower said the group believed free trade and biosecurity “needed to go hand in hand”.

“Our intent was never to ban the importation of red roses, our only interest was to make sure the quarantine and biosecurity protocols were adequate to make sure those importations were clean and fresh,” Mr Marshall said.

“The WA grains industry is the second-biggest industry after mining, with eight million hectares of crop, worth almost $7 billion to 4000 growers.

“It is extremely important to protect our grain crop from pests.”

One of the pests GBAC members believe entered Australia through fresh cut flowers or foliage is the Russian wheat aphid, which is widespread in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, but has not yet infiltrated WA.

WAFarmers grains policy manager and GBAC member Jessica Wallace said biosecurity should be “front of mind for every grower”.

“Incursions are costly for industry and as free-trade increases so too does the risk,” she said.

“Containerised sea freight into WA’s ports, air freight and cross border movements pose the largest risk to WA’s grain industry and these areas require increased surveillance.

“Protecting our industry, against pest and disease incursions is priority for all aspects for the grain supply chain, and responsibility does not lie solely with the grower.”

PGA grains policy officer Ian Randles, who assists GBAC, welcomed the increased pre-border scrutiny.

“The final risk analysis identified that thrips, mites and aphids have been detected on the majority of cut flower and foliage types imported into Australia,” he said.

“Aphids and mites are also a pest of wheat, barley and oat crops.”

Federal Department of Agriculture plant biosecurity head Marion Healy said the new regulatory arrangements would help significantly reduce the high volume of live pests of biosecurity concern arriving in Australia. “Permits will initially be granted for a short period to allow us to assess the effectiveness of the permit conditions at reducing the biosecurity risk,” Dr Healy said. “We will only agree to approve further permits if we’re confident the importer is managing the risks and is sending consignments with low pest loads.”

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails