Wine Australia and Hort Innovation have teamed up through the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI) to safeguard the nation against Xylella fastidiosa, the devastating bacterium that could cripple the country’s multi-billion dollar wine and horticultural sectors.

While Australia is currently free from Xylella, it threatens more than 350 commercial, ornamental and native plant species across the country.

As previously reported, the impact of Xylella overseas has been catastrophic, infecting more than 200 million citrus trees in Brazil, destroying one million olive trees in Italy and devastating the Californian grape sector – causing annual losses in excess of US$100 million.

Dr Jo Luck, program director at the PBRI, said there was no known cure and prevention was the only safeguard against what has been deemed Australia’s most threatening exotic plant disease.

“If established, ABARES has estimated the potential cost to Australia’s grape and wine sector alone at up to $7.9 billion. The impact on Australian horticulture would be just as devastating,” she said.

“Through the PBRI, we are taking a coordinated approach, together with the nation’s seven plant-focused research and development corporations, Plant Health Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, industry, state and federal biosecurity stakeholders, to stamp this threat out before it can take root.”

Wine Australia and Hort Innovation are currently recruiting a Xylella program manager to develop research and development priorities and projects to help protect Australia’s wine and horticulture sectors. The program manager 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.

Vinehealth Australia CEO Inca Pearce is fully supportive of the joint wine and horticulture Xylella initiative. “Once a candidate is appointed, we will be looking to form a close relationship for the benefit of South Australian vineyard owners,” she said.