International Year of Plant Health 2020

By Gabrielle Stannus

Plans to celebrate the International Year of Plant Health in 2020 are gearing up. We speak with John McDonald, National Biosecurity Manager, to find out what is in store and why you should not wait until next year to “protect plants, protect life”.

The International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) is being led internationally by the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In Australia, planning for the IYPH is being led by a steering committee chaired by Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer Dr Kim Ritman from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture. The IYPH Steering Group includes representatives from the Department of Agriculture as well as Plant Health Australia, Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Plant Biosecurity Research Institute, AUSVEG, and NGIA’s National Biosecurity Manager John McDonald.

John recently attended the Plant Biosecurity Research Symposium held on 15-16 August 2019 in Brisbane. At that event, Lyn O’Connell, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, reminded the audience that increased movement of people and freight into Australia poses a threat to this nation’s biosecurity and therefore plant health.

“The Deputy Secretary indicated that by 2025, the Department predicts that shipping into Australia will have increased by 28 per cent, the movement of people will have increased by 72 per cent, the number of shipping containers arriving in the country will have increased by 75 per cent and containerised cargo will have increased by 100 per cent,” says John.

“The Deputy Secretary also said that the residual risk increases by 70 per cent if we do nothing more than what we are currently doing,” John adds, “Plant health is so critical to the success of the industry. If we get some of these major pathogens (e.g. Xylella fastidiosa), some businesses could potentially be financially ruined due to loss of stock and sales. Therefore, we need to be aware. We need to be alert and we need to be playing our part within the entire plant health system.”

‘Protecting Plants, Protecting Life’
John says of his involvement in the IYPH: “I am looking forward to using this internationally renowned platform to highlight the importance of plant industries to Australia and the vital role that nursery production plays across the food, fibre, foliage and pharma sections of our plant production industries. Our plant industries are vital to Australia, to our way of life, our health, food security, environment and our urban spaces.”

With the theme of ‘Protecting Plants, Protecting Life’, the IYPH will provide John with the opportunity to remind industry to ensure their supply chains are operating appropriately elevating the importance of high health nursery stock along the supply chain.

“That could be a production nursery sourcing tube stock. It could be the tube stock nursery sourcing where it gets its vegetative cuttings from. It could be a seedling nursery not being aware of where it is sourcing its seed from; for example, is it virus tested? We have then got the retailer buying nursery stock. Are they aware of their biosecurity responsibility and what the business that they buy from is doing?” says John.

What can you look forward to in the IYPH?
John says the IYPH Steering Group is looking for opportunities to align with the IYPH and to put in place specific activities, highlighting the importance of plant health in our plant industries. He is keen to take this message out to the broader Australian community, whether it be industry supply chains, government regulators, policy makers or consumers.

Potential activities are likely to include a major launch event, an Australian-focussed IYPH website, the development of industry-relevant case studies and the recruitment of IYPH 2020 advocates. The Healthy Plants Healthy People Conference running 3-5 March 2020 in Perth will also incorporate IYPH activities for industry.

Stay tuned for further news!