Australia: Biosecurity outbreaks

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Biosecurity outbreaks in Australia: A short history


ABC Rural

As Australian agricultural and environmentalists demand more focus on biosecurity, ABC Rural examines a recent history of biosecurity outbreaks.

Tomato potato psyllid

This exotic pest insect was discovered for the first time in Australia this month, in a suburban garden in Perth and in a commercial capsicum crop north of the city.

It is capable of carrying the zebra chip disease in potatoes although initial reports suggest the insects do not appear to be carrying this bacteria.

Once established, the psyllid is impossible to eradicate with zebra chip disease costing the New Zealand potato industry $45 million when it arrived there in 2008/2009.

If it established here, the Plant Biosecurity CRC estimates it could reduce production by between 20 and 50 per cent.

Chestnut blight

Chestnut blight was first detected near Eurobin in the Ovens Valley in Victoria’s north-east in September 2010.

The pest was discovered again on a number of other properties in the Valley in 2014.

It is a bark-inhabiting fungus that has already spread through North America, North Asia and Europe.

It is new to Australia and has significantly affected the Victorian chestnut industry, worth $8 million annually, according to Agriculture Victoria.

Cucumber green mottle mosaic virus

Cucumber green mottle mosaic virus was detected on watermelon farms in Katherine and Darwin in the Northern Territory in September 2014.

Quarantine measures were put in place but another incursion was found on a single property at Charters Towers in April 2015.

In February 2016, the NT revoked the quarantine but the disease was again found last year in Western Australia, in the Kimberley, Perth, Geraldton and Carnarvon.

The virus can remain dormant in soil, and can persist in some weeds.

It is transmitted via contaminated machinery, equipment and infected seed stock.

Banana Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4)

The $400 million banana industry was devastated after the discovery of Panama TR4 on a property at Tully, in far north Queensland in March 2015.

Previously, the soil-borne pathogen had wiped out the banana industry in the Northern Territory in the 1990s.

It is spreads via contaminated soil and plants and cannot be eradicated.

The infected Tully property has since been purchased by industry and will never be farmed again.

The emergency and ongoing response has cost the Queensland Government $22 million, with significant investment also coming from the Federal Government and growers.

Plant Biosecurity CRC estimates the cost of eradicating banana freckle and Panama TR4 at currently $26 million.

Myrtle rust

The plant fungal disease myrtle rust was first detected in Wyong, NSW in April 2010.

It has since spread across the eastern Australian landscape and is found in bushland reserves, home gardens, commercial operations, parks and street plantings.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries said myrtle rust could now be also found in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and on the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory.

It has been declared endemic and can not be eradicated.

Myrtle rust originated in South America and is spread via yellow spores, which can be dispersed by wind, animals and humans.

Dr Michael Robinson, from Plant Biosecurity CRC, last year said he was worried myrtle rust had the potential to cause some native plants to become extinct.

Fire ants

Fire ants entered Australia through a port in Brisbane in 2001 and arrived again in 2006. 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The swarming ants have a highly irritating sting that has caused 85 deaths in the United States, with people suffering anaphylactic shock.

The Invasive Species Council last year recommended the Federal Government double its spending on eradicating the fire ant.

The government is now reviewing the fire ant eradication program and will meet in May 2017.

The ants could potentially thrive anywhere in Australia and threaten farming and recreation.

The red imported fire ant has arrived multiple times since first being detected in 2001 and was declared eradicated in May 2016.

Varroa mite and the Asian honeybee

As yet, no varroa destructor mite has been found in Australia but many believe it is only a matter of time.

The industry said this will risk a pollination and honey industry worth more than $1 billion.

The Asian honeybee Java strain, which can carry the varroa destructor, was discovered in Cairns in 2007.

Authorities have declared it endemic and it can not be eradicated.

The Jacobsonii, another less destructive species of varroa, was found in traps at Townsville in June 2016.

White spot disease

White spot disease was first detected in the Logan River south of Brisbane, in November 2016.

Its arrival has since wiped away $25 million from the farmed prawn industry, with seven Queensland prawn farms falling victim to the disease.

It is highly contagious and kills more than 80 per cent of prawns in an infected farm.

The Federal Government imposed a ban on green prawn imports two months after white spot disease was first discovered.

The Department of Agriculture confirmed 73 imported consignments tested positive for white spot between May and December last year and said it was destroyed.

Since 2007, imported whole raw prawns have been banned and to be imported, they need to be peeled and deheaded.

Prawn farmers said the outbreak of white spot disease was a big wakeup call for the nation’s biosecurity.

Russian wheat aphid

The Russian wheat aphid was first discovered in South Australia in May 2016.

Researchers said the pest had the potential to affect 75 per cent of a grain crop but it was not technically feasible to eradicate it from Australia.

Plant Health Australia is developing a national management plan for Russian wheat aphid.

The plan will include a range of elements such as immediate control options, training to promote early detections and best practice management.

It will also include research and development to provide long-term control options.

Yellow crazy ant

The yellow crazy ant was introduced accidentally to northern Australia and Christmas Island in the early 1900s.

The ants have had significant destructive impact on Christmas Island’s ecosystem, killing and displacing crabs on the forest floor and forming supercolonies.

Bio-controls are now being trialled to manage the ants.

Pacific oyster mortality syndrome (POMS)

Tasmanian farmers of Pacific oysters are slowly rebuilding after an outbreak of POMS disease destroyed approximately $50 million worth of stock.

It was discovered in January 2016 and warm water temperatures triggered it to reappear this summer.

The industry believes oysters resistant to the disease are two years away from being released to farmers.


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