Securing Australia’s agricultural future

July 27, 2017

The Plant Biosecurity CRC has paved the way for a world-class plant biosecurity system based on nationally coordinated, funded and enduring science.

Featured image above: Bactericera cockerelli. Credit: Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia

The ever-growing importance of plant biosecurity in Australia can be seen from the gradual evolution of the Cooperative Research Centres dedicated to it. What began as the Tropical Plant Pathology CRC in 1992 morphed into the CRC for Tropical Plant Protection in 1999, then into the CRC for National Plant Biosecurity in 2005 and finally the Plant Biosecurity CRC (PBCRC) in 2012.

PBCRC will close in mid-2018, having brought together 27 multinational partners across agriculture and the environment, including almost all key biosecurity agencies in Australia as well as industry partners. At the same time, it is laying the foundations to bring 26 years’ of research and development to fruition in the form of a permanent national research agency to support plant biosecurity in Australia.

“From our point of view, Australia absolutely needs a strong, national biosecurity research and innovation system,” says current PBCRC CEO Dr Michael Robinson. Hence, PBCRC’s proposed SmartBiosecurity initiative.

The SmartBiosecurity proposal outlines a structure that shares responsibility for biosecurity between the Commonwealth and states, but also industry, research organisations and the broader public.

“What we’ve proposed looks a bit like a permanent Cooperative Research Centre; all the key biosecurity players are partners in the system,” says Robinson. “The Commonwealth provides the core funding, which is the glue for others like the states, research agencies, and industry bodies to come on board and help fund this national effort.”

The importance of such an agency is illustrated by the recent discovery of the tomato potato psyllid (pictured above right) in Western Australia. It is a sap-sucking insect that could potentially cost the horticultural sector millions of dollars. There are already reports that one producer has had to abandon its export market plan because of the outbreak.

PBCRC has been working on the psyllid for some time, and is helping deliver an evidence-based outbreak response; for example, using its research into the ecology of the psyllid, its alternative hosts, and diagnostic methods for the destructive zebra chip disease that can be vectored by the pest.

“The work we’re doing covers the whole biosecurity continuum, from reducing the risk of something entering in the first place by better understanding what the risks are and where to target surveillance operations, through to more rapid detection and better responses to the incursions, plus all the market access issues,” Robinson says.

“It’s a very broad portfolio that impacts the whole biosecurity space and it goes to the very heart of Australia’s high-quality produce reputation,” he explains. “Science is the currency of biosecurity and a partnership approach is critical for agriculture and our environment.”

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– Bianca Nogrady

For more CRC discovery, check out KnowHow 2017

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