The FABAL (Food and Beverage Australia Limited) name is well known in the Australian wine industry, with 20 viticultural operations spread across South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria, and previous horticultural operations in Queensland and Tasmania.
With such geographically diverse operations, Chief Executive Officer Ashley Keegan sees first-hand the challenges and opportunities associated with biosecurity.
Ashley says, in his experience, Australia holds a globally enviable biosecurity position – and this position must be protected.
“Our island nation combines federal and state resources at points of entry to create a mindset that we have the ability to control our destiny. I think that most of us who work in agriculture have an appreciation of these underpinning biosecurity foundations,” he says.
“However, one of the risks that comes with that mindset is the potential for complacency, or the attitude that it is ‘someone else’s responsibility’. This is dangerous.
“As someone who has spent my career travelling interstate across a range of agricultural commodities, it’s second nature to think about the biosecurity risks I am interacting with; the clothes I am wearing, the boots I leave onsite, the car that I travel in and the timelines involved. I don’t think the same can be said for others outside of agriculture, or the average tourist.
“However, I do I think the COVID experience around interstate travel and borders has highlighted to the entire global population the concept of transmissibility and this is one positive to come out of a really challenging situation.”
Ashley thinks most grapegrowers in South Australia are aware of the state’s enviable position with phylloxera freedom.
“As a consequence, we have a very palpable biosecurity ‘enemy’ in phylloxera to focus on. I think this focus on phylloxera creates a really important halo of biosecurity awareness and resilience that should not be underestimated,” he says.
“To have such a destructive and known threat to rally against helps ensure that SA grapegrowers have a healthy respect for biosecurity.
“And the fundamental awareness that ‘I am actually in control of my personal paddock risk’ is empowering to growers. We understand that our farm-gate is the single most important tool in mitigating this potentially catastrophic commercial risk.
“Ironically, many are now finding themselves using the farm-gate as an important conduit to help mitigate the COVID risk to their staff and business. This knowledge can be carried forward to management of other biosecurity threats.”
Ashley says there are opportunities for growers, including the team at FABAL, to ensure operations maintain robust biosecurity protocols.
“There are a range of variables at play here,” he says. “For a start, knowledge is king: people don’t know what they don’t know. We are living in a time of unprecedented access to information and yet our bandwidth to consume it and stay up to date is under constant pressure.
“Another key factor is competing short term priorities. Running agricultural businesses is hard work, irrespective of industry and location, and growers have plenty on their plate. Putting in robust uncompromising biosecurity protocols takes significant effort and focus and must be embedded in the operations at all levels to avoid it being seen as a time consumer rather than asset-protecting activity.”