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Boost to fight grain industry biosecurity threat

Media Release: 17 October 2007

A $30 million biosecurity research alliance has been launched to protect Australia's highly valuable grain market.

The Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity (CRC Plant Biosecurity) has combined the skills of industry, government, and scientific institutions in a unified national approach to develop new technologies, training and biosecurity safeguards.  Three large grain handling companies have joined the project. They are the CBH Group, ABB Grain Ltd and GrainCorp Operations Ltd.

The biosecurity project aims to control emerging pest and disease threats to stored grains such as wheat and barley, and help maintain Australia's reputation as a world leader of high quality grains.

"Australia's grain industry faces threats from pests, pathogens and mycotoxins which can adversely affect our post-harvest grain crops and threaten market access," says Dr Simon McKirdy, CRC Plant Biosecurity's Chief Executive Officer.

"Science has played a major role in keeping our grain market healthy and free of diseases, but we need to be vigilant. Some pest species are building up a resistance to chemical treatments such as phosphine, used to protect grain in bulk storage facilities."

"There is an urgent need to address the risk of infestation by new insect strains, which are resistant to phosphine fumigation. The new research alliance aims to urgently address this issue so that the Australian grain industry's ability to maintain and actively seek new markets is not endangered by new threats," says Dr McKirdy.

The impact of plant pest and disease outbreaks has been amply demonstrated in recent years. Sugar cane smut and citrus canker in Queensland, and wheat streak mosaic virus in parts of Australia, resulted in over $50 million of damage to farms and eradication costs by government agencies.

"A disease outbreak to our $6 billion grain industry could be devastating and affect overseas exports for years to come," says David Fienberg, senior manager with the CBH Group, one of Australia's largest grain organisations.

"Australia's position as a leading exporter of grains, including wheat, barley, oilseeds and pulses, must be protected at all costs. Some pests, such a grain borers and flour beetles, are building up resistance to conventional treatment methods."

"Australia's grain industry could be at risk in 5 to 10 years if new treatment strategies are not found.

"This is an issue that impacts on the industry as a whole and we need to work together through a national approach to develop cost-effective ways to fight these threats. We can do this by sharing expertise, equipment and resources that support the National Grains Industry Biosecurity Plan," says Mr Fienberg.

The project will develop risk assessment tools, wider surveillance and control technology for bulk storage operators and handlers.

There is an increased investment in the project from several existing CRC Plant Biosecurity partners in the project: Grains Research and Development Corporation; CSIRO Entomology; Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia; NSW Department of Primary Industries; Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries; and a new education partner, Charles Sturt University.

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