Ron Cullen, Chair of the NFF’s Biosecurity Taskforce, is an advocate for change in the way farmers think about biosecurity. Vinehealth Australia is sharing this thought-provoking article which is also relevant for the viticulture industry.

Biosecurity underpins Australian agriculture, but people are so busy running their farms they don’t think about it. So says National Farmers’ Federation’s biosecurity taskforce chairman Ron Cullen.

“For many, the term ‘biosecurity’ invokes the idea of being something out there, something remote from our day-to-day activities, or something that is the responsibility of the federal government,” he says.

However, Ron says biosecurity is a concern for all Australians, both farmers and the general community. In our interconnected world, the question is no longer whether a biosecurity incursion will occur but when – as evidenced with the recent spread of the red fire ant.

“Biosecurity is everyone’s business – it ranges from macro-level international threats to ensuring profitability on farm,” he says.

“We’ve been lucky for so long in Australia that we sometimes forget how important it is to have preventative biosecurity measures in place.”

Engaging in preventative biosecurity measures also reduces future costs associated with managing weeds and pests that come from poor biosecurity controls, costing farmers thousands of dollars every year.

“People are a bit sceptical about taking the extra step and putting up a sign at the gate saying ‘Please respect farm biosecurity, contact us before entering’, yet I am sure we all know how important it is,” Ron says.

“Sometimes we see it as a bit of a luxury, until we get a pest or disease incursion, and then the message is reinforced that biosecurity is our insurance policy.

“But if we don’t keep that insurance up-to-date, if we don’t think about keeping pests and disease at bay, then we can pay a much bigger price.”

Rom says it’s crucial that everyone is aware that farms should only be entered by people with permission, to ensure they don’t bring foreign material onto the farm.

“Our goal is to ensure that non-intensive farmers are just as aware of cleaning equipment, vehicles and personal gear before entering farms, whatever the enterprise, be they livestock or crops, orchards or vines,” he says.

Risk management and biosecurity management are largely about prevention, especially because risks often sit outside the realm of known pests and diseases.

Rom says it’s crucial farmers don’t differentiate between exotic and endemic diseases on farm, as both have the same preventative measures.

“When you tackle endemic pests and diseases, you will also catch the exotics,” Ron says.

While prevention is critical, biosecurity breaches do occur from time to time, often for reasons outside of the control of farmers.

When this happens, it is vital to work in partnership to address the threat. The biosecurity response needs to be outcome-focused and should not attempt to allocate blame.

“It is important to encourage farmers and to give them an incentive to ring the Exotic Pests and Diseases hotline,” Ron says.

“At present, some farmers may fear their property will be quarantined and they will lose their crops without receiving compensation, resulting in a low propensity to ring.”

The task ahead for the NFF’s biosecurity taskforce in 2017 is to consider how positive behaviour change can occur within the farming community.

“The A-B-C of on-farm biosecurity is that biosecurity has to be relevant, beneficial and cost effective,” Ron says.

“This includes better surveillance awareness and incursion preparedness.

“In short, it is about doing important preventative biosecurity measures, even when they are not urgent.”

Exotic Plant Pest Hotline: 1800 084 881

Acknowledgement: Ron Cullen is Chair of National Farmers Federation’s Biosecurity Taskforce. This article was reproduced with some edits with the permission of the National Farmers Federation.