Practical learning at plant health event

On the topic of road trips, Vinehealth Australia’s Technical Manager Suzanne McLoughlin and Wine Australia’s R&D Program Manager Sharon Harvey attended the ‘Science Protecting Plant Health’ conference in Brisbane in September.

Of the 500-plus delegates in attendance, several of the wine industry’s leading plant pathologists and researchers played key roles. Almost 100 students also attended, which is great news for maintaining expertise into the future.

The conference was jointly organised by the Australasian Plant Pathological Society and Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre and provided an opportunity to network, share knowledge, and hear about the latest research, development and extension happening across a range of crops.

“It also made us think about our potential preparedness for biosecurity incursions in the wine industry, areas for opportunity and collaboration, our phylloxera research, and improving on-farm biosecurity and disinfestation procedures,” Suzanne said.

Suzanne attended an ‘on-farm biosecurity’ session, with five speakers sharing their insights. “This confirmed that a range of methods are best used to inform growers of biosecurity, because there is no ‘typical’ grower,” Suzanne said. “They have diversity in production systems, some are very tech savvy, most are time poor, all are market and quality focussed, some just want basic hygiene, while others want detailed information on monitoring for a specific pest.”

The session also focused on how to make farm-gate hygiene easy for growers to adopt. “On ground actions can be as simple as reporting anything unusual, cleaning/disinfesting machinery and equipment, restricting access to properties, keeping records on where visitors have been prior to coming to your property, and inspecting machinery/equipment/planting material/footwear before it comes on to your property. For vineyard owners, we cover these steps in our ‘10 farm-gate hygiene tips’ poster, available on our website.

Rachel Taylor-Hukins from NSW Department of Primary Industries presented on the national ‘Grains Farm Biosecurity Program’, which started 10 years ago and has five staff nationally. It aims to build capacity and capability in the grains industry; contribute to the industry’s risk mitigation strategy; support market access and improve early detection and preparedness for plant pest incursions. The program:

  • Encourages growers to report unusual pests and diseases;
  • Aims to take the jargon out of biosecurity and use practical terms for growers and other stakeholders;
  • Aligns farm biosecurity with good farming practices;
  • Promotes industry advocates, as farmers like hearing from other farmers;
  • Runs a comprehensive engagement strategy involving media articles, field days, grower meetings and conferences;
  • Delivers extension information in the form of pocket guides, manuals, factsheets, planning templates and posters;
  • Utilises farm biosecurity signage as a recognisable part of program;
  • Involves building collaborative networks and alliances to deliver the extension;
  • Educates the industry in emergency response systems.

“Their focus is much like ours which is no big surprise. Biosecurity issues are universal – and we know what we need to do to improve biosecurity in the wine industry,” said Suzanne. “The grains industry is seeing some really positive changes and that gives us great optimism about the work we’re doing at Vinehealth Australia.”

Sharon attended a plenary session by Dr Mark Hoddle (University of California), who described how classical biocontrol has been used in the South Pacific (Tahiti) to curb the spread of glassy-winged sharpshooter, the main vector of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which causes Pierce’s disease in grapevines. He spoke about the role of biocontrol in integrated pest management and put forward the idea of Australia and New Zealand having biocontrol agents ‘locked and loaded’ and ready to use. “It’s certainly an interesting concept that should be considered by our federal and state biosecurity departments,” Sharon said.