Australia will be better prepared for plant disease outbreaks with the appointment of a national coordinator to lead a three-year program to improve readiness for the potential incursion of the devastating Xylella fastidiosa.
Experienced biosecurity and emergency response coordinator, Craig Elliott, has been appointed to work with a national steering committee and coordinate the program to safeguard the nation against Xylella, an exotic bacteria that threatens more than 350 commercial, ornamental and native plant species in Australia.
The role is a joint initiative between Wine Australia and Hort Innovation through the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI) to coordinate research and emergency response activities to improve Australia’s preparedness.
While Australia is currently free of Xylella, the disease has been catastrophic overseas infecting more than 200 million citrus trees in Brazil, destroying 1 million olive trees in Italy and severely impacted the Californian grape sector – causing annual losses in excess of US$100 million.
Mr Elliott has previously worked in senior management roles with state biosecurity agencies in Queensland and Tasmania, as well as with the National Biosecurity Response Team, and he has extensive experience in leading emergency responses and training government and industry personnel in biosecurity and emergency management.
Mr Elliott said his priorities will be focused on working with local and international researchers to find simple and quick ways of detecting the disease in plant and insect samples and to develop containment and eradication strategies should there be an outbreak.
"The key to Australia being better prepared is having the ability to detect Xylella early and then having the containment and eradication tools ready so we can act quickly", Mr Elliott said.
"We can learn from the experience of other countries and the work being done to improve their detection and response procedures. Unfortunately we are seeing the spread of Xylella through southern Europe and we can’t afford to be complacent with this threat."
Dr Jo Luck, PBRI Program Director, said there was no known cure for Xylella and prevention was the only safeguard against Australia’s most threatening exotic plant disease.
"If established, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has estimated Xylella’s potential cost to Australia’s grape and wine sector alone at up to $7.9 billion over 50 years. The impact on Australian horticulture and environment would be equally devastating", she said.
Dr Liz Waters, Wine Australia’s General Manager for Research, Development and Extension (RD&E), said Mr Elliott’s role was a vital investment in protecting Australia against Xylella.
"Xylella has the potential to impact many different plant industries and Mr Elliott will manage cross-sectoral biosecurity preparedness, act in a liaison role for potentially affected sectors, and ensure there is national awareness and coordination of high-priority RD&E to prevent the pest arriving and establishing."
David Moore, Hort Innovation General Manager for Research and Development, said the risk of Xylella had encouraged collaboration across agricultural research and development corporations.