The Australian flower industry’s peak body is calling on the federal government to invest more money to protect growers from biosecurity threats.

Key points:

  • The government is set to throw hundreds of millions at biosecurity measures in the Budget
  • Industry leaders say the cut flower industry is an exotic pest and disease “superhighway”
  • Some exporters were found to have failed inspections at rates in excess of 50 per cent

$371 million biosecurity package was announced yesterday ahead of next week’s Budget, which included funding for freight container inspections, the management of international mail, research into how pests are entering the country and a public awareness campaign.

Flower Industry Australia chief executive Anna Jabour welcomed the announcement, but she had hoped some money from this package would go towards better inspections of cut flower imports.

“The cut flower industry is an exotic pest and disease superhighway,” she said.

“While the Department of Agriculture claims to inspect 100 per cent of consignment, in reality less than 20 per cent of each load is physically examined.

“It is a huge concern for me and industry colleagues as diseases that could come in on cut flowers, such as xylella, could wipe billions from the local agricultural sector and devastate local flora and fauna.”

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Gardening Australia’s Jane Edmanson visits Australia’s newest quarantine facility to find out what happens to plants when they’re imported into the country.

A spokesperson from the agriculture department said the views expressed by FIA do not reflect the biosecurity risks associated with the cut flower import pathway, and the department inspects 100 per cent of consignments of cut flowers in a manner that is consistent with international standards.

Xylella is not present in Australia at the moment but the bacterium tops the list of the National Priority Plant Pests because it causes devastating disease in many species of plants, including many agricultural crops, and there is no cure.

A woman surrounded by colourful bunches of flowers.

Anna Jabour says her sector feels left out of the government’s cash splash.(

Supplied

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AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside shares the flower industry’s concerns.

“While we have natural advantages due to our geographical location, we cannot afford to be complacent,” he said.

“Recent biosecurity outbreaks in this country, including fall armyworm and serpentine leaf miner, have shown the tremendous economic and emotional toll that incursions have on an industry and its members.

A close up of a caterpillar on a plant leaf

The fall armyworm is a pest that has entered Australia.(

Supplied: DPIRD

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“That threatens Australia’s agriculture industry that needs to be addressed by the government to ensure that an acceptable level of protection is upheld.”

Call for COOL

Ms Jabour said one option to track such pests in cut flowers coming into Australia was adding country-of-origin labelling (COOL) to the product.

“I believe [cut flowers] are currently the only fresh produce in the country excluded despite being one of the highest risk pest pathways,” she said.

“The decision for whether cut flowers are added to COOL is due in June from the government and it would be brilliant if some of this money was used to help the industry adapt.”

A plant in the grip of a deadly exotic disease.

A plant affected by the bacterium xylella fastidiosa, which is Australia’s number one plant pest threat.(

Supplied: Department of Agriculture

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In 2017, the Federal Department of Agriculture conducted a review which found high rates of pest detections on large numbers of imported fresh cut flowers at Australian borders.

It also found that some fresh cut flower and foliage exporters had inspection failure rates in excess of 50 per cent.

Vital investment

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who made the announcement on Tuesday, said Australia’s biosecurity system safeguarded the $42 billion inbound tourism industry and $53b in agricultural exports.

A single red rose stem stands above a sea of flowers in a greenhouse.

The flower industry is desperate to protect farms from exotic pests and disease.(

ABC Rural: Charlie McKillop

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“This investment is about putting a protective ring around Australia to safeguard industry as well as the rural and regional communities that depend on it,” he said.

Industry says cut flower imports a ‘superhighway’ for disease, so where’s the cash?
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