Australian farmers know the risk that plant biosecurity breaches pose to their business.
They understand that the wide international market access they benefit from is granted on the basis that their produce is free from pests and diseases, and that they can prove it. They also understand the potentially devastating impact incursions can have on productivity.
So whether it is Russian wheat aphid in SA, the fungal disease blueberry rust in Tasmania, cucumber green mottle mosaic virus in WA or varroa mite in Queensland, the almost weekly detections of new and potentially devastating pests and diseases is a concern to all.
The risk to Australian exports is on the rise, and managing pests and disease is complex. This increased risk comes as governments face pressure to allocate resources for biosecurity RD&E and surveillance efficiently and effectively. If Australia is to continue to benefit from high-value agricultural exports, government needs to hear about biosecurity concerns from the people who understand them.
It is crucial Australian agriculture – and its leaders – have a voice on the issue of sustainable plant biosecurity RD&E.
With the Australian agriculture sector contributing $53.5 billion to our national economy and delivering exports valued at $43.6 billion, biosecurity has never had a more important role.
The global market access given to Australian food products is based on our enviable biosecurity status, which in turn is built on long-term investments in quality science.
Good science means Australia can protect its borders, prove the absence of market-sensitive pests and diseases, guarantee quality through the supply chain, and fulfill the marketing promise of our agricultural exports.
For the past decade, much of the responsibility for managing and funding cross-sectoral and strategic plant biosecurity RD&E in Australia has fallen to the current Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).
The CRC will be wrapped up in 2018. The impact of this on cross-sectoral plant biosecurity science will be significant. We have spent the last 18 months working with industry, research and government stakeholders to develop a model for an improved, coordinated, national and sustainable plant biosecurity RD&E system to underpin agriculture’s growth.
As well as industry consultation, options for a new model were investigated and explored in an independent research paper authored by Mick Keogh, Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute and Agriculture Commissioner of the ACCC.
This research paper – A sustainable and nationally coordinated plant biosecurity R,D&E system for Australia – and the ongoing consultation reflect agreement across industry, government and research stakeholders for a nationally coordinated and funded biosecurity RD&E system.
Mr Keogh’s research identified a need for Australia to take a fresh approach to its plant biosecurity science system and revealed a range of interpretations about how the current system works, as well as varying views on the best vehicle to drive a future RD&E system
“The establishment of a stand-alone plant biosecurity corporation, as a joint venture between the Australian Government, state governments and plant industries, should be a priority.”
There is an unequivocal need for biosecurity to support Australian agricultureDr Michael Robinson, Plant Biosecurity CRC
He explains further that the structure should have the flexibility to bring in other partners (for example the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries) and also to enter into joint-venture projects with other industry participants, such as grain or horticulture trading corporations.
Mr Keogh says that, with no future sustainable plant biosecurity RD&E system yet described for Australia, resources for biosecurity RD&E and surveillance on the decline, and the potential for major plant disease incursions increasing, there is a perfect storm brewing.
While there is no consensus on a preferred model, submissions to the research paper and PBCRC’s broader stakeholder engagement tells us there is also a lot of common ground.
There is an unequivocal need for biosecurity to support Australian agriculture and to build its market and trade opportunities. And there is agreement on the need for nationally funded and coordinated plant biosecurity RD&E system. Full stop. Consensus.
With a multitude of structures and machinations in place, settling on an agreed path is a difficult task. But the conversations continue between industry, research and government partners.
The CRC is committed to continuing to lead this process, knowing that a long-term, nationally-coordinated research effort is essential for all agricultural interests. We plan to take a proposed solution to the Australian Government later this year.
However, we can’t do it alone. We know there is no ‘optimal’ structure from every stakeholder’s perspective but we firmly believe that through collective and constructive leadership we can avoid this potential gaping hole, and maintain the science necessary to see Australian agriculture and exports continue to flourish.
If the future of Australia’s plant biosecurity RD&E interests you, please download the AFI research paper, register for updates and review submissions at the Smart biosecurity science website www.pbcrc.com.au/smartbiosecurityscience. The two-page Summary Paper and full final report is also available online.
We encourage you to join the conversation.
Dr Michael Robinson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre.