Biosecurity - Turf and Ornamental Pests

You only need to arrive at an Australian airport on an international flight to realize how important biosecurity is to keep a range of unwanted organisms from entering the country. It’s even so interesting that some watch it for entertainment as a television show. It is very important for our health and safety and those involved in the turf industry can play a role.

Some of the most important turf and ornamental pests and diseases we have to manage came as incursion from overseas. Think of African Black Beetle, Argentine Stem Weevil, Argentinian Scarab, Changa Mole Cricket and Red Imported Fire Ants. The names themselves tell you that these pests are not native to Australia.  We can add some key ornamental diseases and pests like Myrtle Rust, Elm leaf beetle, Sycamore lace bug, Pine nematodes, Giant pine scale and Monterey pine aphid which have all been relatively recent introductions into Australia.

If these are not picked up by the quarantine officers in airports and shipping ports who is most likely to pick up these incursions once they enter the field?  It is those people who are routinely looking at plants and the surrounding areas as part of their daily activities, and those working in turf and horticulture in urban areas would be one of the largest groups.

None of us can be experts in identifying an exotic insect or disease, but we can recognise something new or different and this is when we should stop and have a closer look. These days everyone carries a camera in their pocket and it doesn’t take much to take a photograph and share it with others. Perhaps the basic principles of biosecurity should be a more formal part of turf and horticulture training.

The Federal Department of Agriculture & Water Resources has a Biosecurity hotline (1800 798 636) and on-line form (http://www.agriculture.gov.au/pests-diseases-weeds/report) for reporting suspected incursions. There is also a specific phone number for plants, the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline (1800 084 881).

For those interested in finding out more about this process there are free on-line short courses conducted by Plant Health Australia. I recently completed “Reporting a suspect emergency plant pest” and found it to be a good brief summary of the process which should be followed. There are a couple of other courses on their web-site (http://www.planthealthaustralia.com.au/resources/training/biosecurity-online-training/).

The Farm Biosecurity web-site (www.farmbiosecurity.com.au), while not having anything turf specific, is another useful resource. It can help with thinking about movement of weeds, insects and diseases from one property to another or within properties.

Good observational skills and the desire to report something unusual may save a major problem from developing for your facility, the industry or even something potentially more widespread.