Small Farms

Celebrating a decade of grains farm biosecurity

The Grains Biosecurity Officers. L to R: Jeff Russell (WA), Kym McIntyre (Qld), Jim Moran (Vic), Rachel Taylor-Hukins (NSW) and Judy Bellati (SA)

2017 marks 10 years of the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program, the outreach program run as a partnership between state governments, the grains industry, and coordinated by Plant Health Australia (PHA).

The program is funded by growers through levies collected by Grain Producers Australia (GPA) in partnership with the governments of grain-growing states. PHA has administered and coordinated the program since its inception.

GPA biosecurity spokesperson, Barry Large, says that when the program first began many people didn’t know what the term ‘biosecurity’ meant.

“We’ve come a long way since then. I still find it heartening to see new farm biosecurity signs popping up along roadsides. It means that understanding and good on-farm practices are spreading.”

The biosecurity frontline personnel are the grains biosecurity officers (GBOs). Five GBOs cover New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

Each GBO is responsible for raising awareness of biosecurity among grain growers and others along the supply chain in their region, and helping the industry with emergency responses and pest incursions.

The faces have changed over the years but, collectively, GBOs have attended more than a thousand events and handed out many thousands of farm biosecurity signs, pest fact sheets, manuals and other biosecurity material. More recently you might have seen them at events alongside the Livestock Biosecurity Network staff.

GBOs have delivered hundreds of training sessions in clubs and halls all over the country to raise awareness of the importance of biosecurity and provide growers with information to protect their properties. They have written articles for GroundCover magazine and other publications, and worked with individual growers to develop farm biosecurity plans to assist in managing the risk of diseases, pests and weeds.

The biosecurity officers are also part of the continuous effort to keep grain markets open. Officers recruit volunteers who check for exotic pests in their paddocks, silos and field trials. ‘Nil’ findings from active surveillance are amalgamated to confirm to overseas markets that Australia is free of particular exotic pests.

GBOs have played an important role supporting responses when there has been a new pest incursion, such as Russian wheat aphid in 2016.

Dr Sharyn Taylor, the coordinator of the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program at PHA, says the program was a ground-breaking initiative when it started in 2007.

“There are other biosecurity awareness teams out there these days, but this program was the first to deliver these types of outreach services, embodying a strong partnership between government and industry.”

“The program continues to develop. One of the new initiatives is the silo surveillance network,” Dr Taylor said.

“With assistance from grain growers, our officers have been setting up sentinel silos and sites to give us a way to detect any new pests of stored grain. Early detection is vital if we are to have any chance of eradicating a new pest. The network will also provide valuable ‘evidence-of-absence’ from key pests of market access concern.”

So next time you see a Grains Farm Biosecurity Program stand at a field day, say hello and take home some of the free resources on offer that can help you identify and minimise the possibility of diseases, pests or weeds coming onto your farm.

The contact details of the GBOs are available here.

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