Potato Biosecurity

Potato biosecurity is a set of measures that can be put in place at the national, regional or farm level to protect against the introduction, establishment and spread of new pests, and to effectively deal with them should they arrive.

In plant biosecurity, the definition of a pest includes all insects, mites, snails, nematodes, pathogens (diseases) and weeds that are injurious to plants or plant products.  Exotic pests are those not currently present in Australia.  Endemic (or established) pests are those already present in Australia.

Australia is currently free from many of the pests that affect plant production overseas.  Exotic pests have the potential to cause huge production losses and trade problems.

Maintaining freedom from these pests through effective biosecurity measures is essential for the future profitability of Australian horticulture.

An Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity Agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the state and territory governments to strengthen the national biosecurity system, is in place.

It is a shared responsibility of all levels of government, industry, and the community.

Biosecurity South Australia

A major outbreak of a plant pest or animal disease, or chemical residue problems could potentially cost millions (if not billions) of dollars and affect primary producers, their produce and their livelihoods. Exotic pests and diseases may also risk South Australia’s competitive advantage; its clean, premium reputation, and trade in international and domestic markets.

Biosecurity SA, a division of  the State Government’s Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) is the frontline in protecting South Australia’s annual $600 million horticultural industry.

The State’s Biosecurity Policy is available here.

Biosecurity Australia

The Federal Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF)  has primary responsibility for managing Australia’s biosecurity system under Biosecurity Australia. DAFF is reforming how biosecurity services are delivered to meet future challenges such as increased global movements of people and goods, and climate change.

DAFF’s core priorities in managing biosecurity are to:

  • Manage Australia’s biosecurity by effectively identifying, prioritising and targeting the management of risk;
  • Partner with other governments, industry and stakeholders to manage Australia’s biosecurity;
  • Deliver biosecurity services to support access to overseas markets and protect the economy and the environment from the impacts of unwanted pests and diseases; and
  • Support Australia’s reputation as a competitive exporter of agricultural goods and products.

The key themes of activity to ensure the biosecurity system is effective and sustainable into the future are:

  • Implementing a risk–based approach to biosecurity management;
  • Managing biosecurity risk across the continuum – offshore, at the border and onshore;
  • Strengthening partnerships with stakeholders;
  • Using robust science, being intelligence–led and evidence–based; and
  • Developing and implementing modern legislation, technology, funding and business systems.

In 2008 an independent review of Australia’s quarantine and biosecurity arrangements; “One biosecurity: a working partnership” (the Beale review) was conducted. The Beale review proposed significant reforms to strengthen the system by revising legislation, targeting resources to the areas of greatest return from a risk management perspective, sharing responsibility between government, businesses and the community, and improving transparency, timeliness and operations across the continuum.

Currently, Draft Regulations for the Biosecurity Bill 2012 and the Inspector-General of Biosecurity Bill 2012 are under public and industry stakeholder consideration.  The regulations are intended to support a new, modern, responsive biosecurity system which intervenes where risk needs to be managed; offshore, at the border and onshore.

Plant Heath Australia

Plant Health Australia (PHA) is a not-for-profit, subscription based public company that coordinates plant biosecurity in Australia.  The Australian Government, state and territory governments and plant industry members each meet one third of the total annual membership subscription.

This tripartisan funding model ensures the independence of the company.  This allows PHA to put the interests of the plant biosecurity system first and support a longer-term perspective.

The purpose of PHA is for government and industry to have a strong biosecurity partnership that minimises plant pest impacts in Australia, enhances market access and contributes to industry and community sustainability.

What is Farm Biosecurity?

Farm biosecurity is a set of management practices and activities carried out on-farm to protect a property from the entry and spread of pests.  Farm biosecurity is essential for protecting livelihoods.  It is the responsibility of every person working on or visiting the farm.

The Farm Biosecurity website has tools, tips and manuals to help you implement farm biosecurity on your property. You will also find individual profiles for a range of livestock and crops, or you can create a profile tailored to your farm.  

Two useful documents specific for the potato industry are: 

Implementation of farm biosecurity underpins regional biosecurity, which in turn underpins national biosecurity.

Biosecurity is a whole of community responsibility and begins at the farm level. Growers have the responsibility to maintain sound on-farm biosecurity practices to protect their plants, livelihood and the industry from both endemic and exotic pests.  The Farm Biosecurity website contains all you need to know about best practice farm biosecurity.

PHA brings together industry and government experts to develop biosecurity manuals that explain good farm biosecurity procedures in some detail.  The PHA manual of most relevance to South Australian potato growers is the Farm Biosecurity Manual for the Northern Adelaide Plains Vegetable Growers available for download from the farm biosecurity website.

Here are six simple farm biosecurity measures that can be adopted to protect properties from exotic pests should they breach Australia’s borders, as well as minimise the impact of pests already established.

1. Be aware of biosecurity threats

Make sure you, your farm workers and contractors are familiar with the most important potato pest threats.  Conduct a biosecurity induction session on your farm to explain hygiene practices for workers, equipment and vehicles.

2. Use quality, pest-free propagation material from known sources

Ensure that all propagation material such as seed potatoes and farm inputs are fully tested and pest free, keep records (batch numbers, source) and retain a sample of your farm inputs.

In both South Australia and Victoria, seed potato certification is provided by ViCSPA, the Victorian Certified Seed Potato Authority.  LINK This independent service provider plays a significant role in the biosecurity of the National Potato Industry for exotic pests, such as PCN, through a long history of recognised  soil testing protocols, and zero tolerance to the disease.

3. Keep it clean

Practicing good sanitation and hygiene will help prevent the entry and movement of pests onto your property.  Workers, visitors, vehicles and equipment can spread pests, so make sure they are decontaminated before they enter and leave your farm.

4. Check your crops

Remain observant for anything unusual on your farm.  Monitor your crops frequently.  Knowing the usual appearance of the crop will help you recognise new or unusual pests or plant symptoms.

If a pest is found that is not normally present on your farm it may be new not only to your farm, but to the region, state or even Australia.  Become familiar with the usual pests you find so that you can spot anything unusual.

5. Abide by the law

Be aware of, and follow, laws and regulations established to protect the potato and other horticultural industries in your region.

6. Report anything unusual

When it comes to dealing with exotic pests, speed is of the essence. Detecting an exotic pest early and mounting a response in time is critical to successfully eradicate a pest.

Farmers and farm workers should be constantly on the lookout for something unusual on their farm. If you have spotted something unusual, or suspect a pest that represents a risk to your business and the Australian potato industry, simply call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

Your call will be forwarded to an experienced person in the state department of agriculture who will ask some questions about what you have seen and may arrange to collect a sample. Every report will be taken seriously, checked out and treated confidentially.


Why report an exotic pest?

Any exotic pest incursion that goes unreported is likely to spread and quickly become established and too widespread to eradicate. This could ultimately result in far greater losses to individual businesses and the whole potato industry for many years to come.

In addition, under the terms of the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed , failure by a grower to report any suspected emergency plant pest within 24 hours may nullify the cost-sharing benefits that the Deed confers.

What is the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed?

The EPPRD is a legally binding partnership arrangement that sees Australian industries and Governments cooperating as equal parties in the management of emergency plant pests.  The agreement is unique around the world.

Who developed the EPPRD?

The EPPRD was developed over several years, negotiated by a number of plant industry bodies, state and territory governments and the Australian Government. Plant Health Australia (PHA) is the custodian of the agreement.  A list of industry parties that have become signatories to the EPPRD is available on the PHA website.

When is the EPPRD enacted?

A single notification of an emergency plant pest (EPP) or reasonably held suspicion of an EPP would result in the EPPRD being triggered.

For example, a potato grower or an agronomist notices something different on their crops and phones the EPP hotline (1800 084 881) to report their concerns.

The call is handled by Biosecurity SA and following initial investigations, it is suspected that the Tomato-potato psyllid may be present.

The South Australian Chief Plant Health Officer would report their suspicion within 24 hours to the Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer in Canberra.  It is this notification that triggers the EPPRD.  Meetings involving governments and appropriate industry bodies are held as soon as possible to decide what should be done next to deal with the suspected incursion.

If inquiries confirm the presence of an exotic pest then an assembled committee of government and industry representatives will investigate if it is feasible to eradicate it. If so, a response plan is launched, with actions guided by the EPPRD and its operational guide PLANTPLAN.

What does the EPPRD mean for growers/primary producers?

There are three main benefits under the EPPRD in the event of an emergency plant pest (EPP) incursion affecting potatoes.

The first is a direct benefit to growers.  Under the terms of the agreement, business owners would be eligible for reimbursement of certain direct costs if their property or crops are directly damaged or destroyed as a result of implementing an approved response plan.

The other two benefits are indirect but nevertheless valuable in the event of an incursion.   The interests of growers/primary producers will be represented on the two committees that are established when the EPPRD is triggered:  the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) and the National Management Group (NMG). The CCEPP is the technical committee that makes recommendations to the NMG on incursion responses.  The NMG has primary responsibility for decisions in an eradication campaign and manages the national policy and resourcing needs of a response plan. Without a representative industry body, decision making would be done solely by governments.

Industry and government representatives are appointed early and given authority to commit to actions and make funding decisions.  The industry groups that have a vote on these committees are those that are likely to be affected by that plant pest.

The third benefit is that the EPPRD and its operational guide PLANTPLAN establish exactly what happens when an emergency plant pest is suspected, allowing a swift and standardised response with pre-agreed funding proportions.  There is no arguing about what should happen or who should pay;  the response gets underway immediately maximising the chances of successful eradication.

The EPPRD is a unique cost-sharing agreement that is the envy of many countries in the world.

So who pays for an eradication response?

The proportion of costs that an industry body will pay for an incursion response is determined by the categorisation process which assesses public vs private benefit of eradication of that particular pest.

This process means that potential liabilities are known and funding mechanisms are agreed in advance.

The Australian Government has an agreement to underwrite an industry party’s share of costs where that industry party has an approved mechanism for repayment.

AUSVEG is directly involved in categorising EPPs that could threaten the potato industry, based on their likely environmental, human health, trade, economic and industry impacts.

More FAQs on the EPPRD.

Useful links:

National Plant Biosecurity Status Report – 2012
One Biosecurity- the Beale Report  September 2008
National Plant Biosecurity Strategy – 2011
National Plant Biosecurity Strategy Summary – 2011