Why isn't biosecurity a farmer's main priority?

GROWERS, in general, aren't interested in learning about on-farm biosecurity... unless, there is an imminent threat present.

That's the opinion of Sharyn Taylor, who spoke at the Science Protecting Plant Health forum in Brisbane.

The SPPH conference attracted the brightest minds to Queensland to discuss the latest research and innovation in plant science underpinning agriculture and the environment.

On average, each year Australia records between 30 and 40 plant pest incursions; last year alone there were 42.

It's a statistic that should scare the socks off any grower, so why aren't farmers making biosecurity their top priority?

Nursery and Garden Industry Australia biosecurity manager John MacDonald, also a speaker at the event, was able to shed some light on the issue.

"Something we have to definitely keep in mind is... this is just another thing on a long list that the government is making (growers) do,” he said.

"Things like access to water, they have labour issues, they have tax issues, they are doing a whole lot of things already, and we are now coming along and saying, 'hey guys, you need to step up'.

"And it's something that for 200 years, in this country, has been a government responsibility.”

Many of the speakers mentioning biosecurity concerns made note of the increased amount of "stuff” reaching Australia's shores by sea and air.

As movement of people, goods and produce increases (globally and domestically), so does the threat of a pest impacting Australia's agriculture industry.

Ms Taylor, a professional who has dedicated more than 25 years to plant pathology and biosecurity, highlighted a survey (see graph) that indicated farmers had increased their biosecurity practices. However, more needed to be done.

She believed industry bodies had to become strong leaders in encouraging biosecurity measures.

"Industry led initiates provide a buy-in - they provide skin in the game,” she said.

"It's better if industries are able to step forward and lead these programs, and develop and deliver the information they need, rather than have government telling them what they have to do.”

Using the Panama Tropical Race 4 outbreak in Tully, Australia's largest banana growing region, Ms Taylor explained improved practices were slow to be picked up, but eventually were top-quality.

"I will pull out an example of Panama Disease Tropical Race 4. There was a frustration, I guess, that this was an imminent threat, and imminent pest.

"I think the consensus was it was a 'when', not an 'if' it would show up within the Queensland bulk of banana production.

"It was very slow to get farm biosecurity measures implemented across a number of properties, but when they were implemented, my goodness, they have been some of the most robust, sound, sophisticated and professional farm biosecurity systems I think that the world would have seen.”