Vinehealth Australia Board member Nick Secomb has a fascinating and diverse background in animal and plant control. Over his career he has worked on the control of feral animals, weeds, fruit fly and phylloxera.
Nick is the Director of Plant and Invasive Species Biosecurity at PIRSA and has Vinehealth Board membership through his role as the Chief Inspector for Plant Health in South Australia.
He grew up on a farm at Windsor, north of Adelaide, and graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Natural Resource Management in 1994. His first biosecurity role was with the CSIRO assisting with rabbit calicivirus.
“I worked on Wardang Island in the Spencer Gulf, assisting with the calicivirus response. My role was to walk the island and monitor where the virus was,” Nick said. “That was my first taste of the animal and plant control world, and I was hooked.”
Nick joined PIRSA in 1997 as an animal and plant control officer, based in Jamestown. “The mid north is a high rainfall, high production area and this was a great introductory role for me. I really felt part of a small community and had good interaction with a range of different growers,” he said.
Nick then moved to Port Augusta, working on control of feral goats, camels, donkeys, dingoes and weeds. “The best job I ever had was working as the State feral camel management project manager. I was working with Indigenous communities in the north of the State and also in the Simpson Desert, focusing on feral camel control. It was fantastic work,” he said.
Nick has also worked on a branched broomrape weed eradication program and for the past 10 years has been closely involved with plant pests including control of phylloxera and fruit fly.
Nick said the common theme across all his animal and plant control roles was the key role of communities.
“Whether you’re chasing fruit fly, phylloxera, camels, weeds, dingoes or goats, it’s all about engaging with people,” Nick said.
“I think that’s been a skillset that I’ve refined over the past 30 years – engaging with people, understanding what their triggers are, what they need, and trying to bring people who might seem to be at polar opposites to some common ground.”
Nick said, at the heart of animal and plant control, was the desire to make good decisions that are in the best interest of industry.
In his previous role as Manager of Plant Biosecurity at PIRSA, Nick was closely involved with the South Australian fruit fly outbreak response.
“When the fruit fly response started, it was really big and difficult,” Nick said. “We managed to eradicate fruit flies from Metro Adelaide, which was very rewarding. Now we’re working on eradicating it from the Riverland.
“We have a fruit fly General Manager and we’ve got an Incident Controller based in the Riverland who manages the field response team, so there are good structures around fruit fly control in South Australia.
“I continue to oversee the fruit fly response, but as Director of Plant and Invasive Species Biosecurity, I also manage all the other parts of plant biosecurity and invasive species in South Australia, so I have a broader focus.”
That includes assessing the risk of pests that are exotic to Australia. In terms of the pests that are present elsewhere in Australia but not established in South Australia, Nick said fruit fly, Varroa mite, red imported fire ant and grape phylloxera are the top priorities.
“Fruit fly outbreaks are being eradicated in South Australia and we’re trying to keep the other three out. We’ve kept phylloxera out of South Australia for more than a hundred years, which shows that what we’re doing has proven to be effective, but we can always do better,” Nick said.
“It’s an exciting time for Vinehealth Australia, with a new funding model and a number of new board members. I’m really looking forward to continuing to challenge each other to find new ways of keeping vines safe in South Australia.”