GIA helps tissue culture businesses achieve an ‘import’ant resolution

By Gabrielle Stannus

The start of the Brown marmorated stink bug season recently put a temporary ‘go-slow’ on tissue culture imports into this country. Quick action by Greenlife Industry Australia and State Members reduced the financial impact of this delay on affected businesses.

Keeping Brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) out of this country is an important imperative for the horticultural industry. This highly mobile "hitchhiker" can potentially enter this country via imported goods, vessels or aircraft, and it has a broad host range. This bug’s propensity to aggregate in large numbers, feeding on leaf and fruit tissue, means it is classified as a high priority pest of many fruit, nut and vegetable varieties. However, in the Department of Agriculture’s quest to keep this pest our of our country, it almost inadvertently put a stop to an important part of our greenlife industry: tissue culture importation.

Ball Australia
At the start of spring, Ball Australia had a shipment of 200,000 tissue culture plantlets destined for the booming indoor plant market placed on hold in quarantine. This shipment waited twelve days before quarantine officers inspected it.

“What we were told through the inspection process was that tissue culture plants were not seen as high priority. Inspectors were prioritising checks on containers potentially containing the Brown marmorated stink bug. Therefore, the inspection process was going to take a lot longer than usual,” explains Paul Boland, Ball Australia’s Managing Director.

“A lot of the product that we were bringing in was ‘ex-agar’. The plants are loose as they have been taken out of agar and transported in bags,’ Paul continues, “Because of this delay, we lost between 30 to 40 percent of some varieties.”

This meant a potential loss to Ball Australia in sales of between $300,000 to $400,000, and an estimated $4 to $5 million worth of product that may not have reached the marketplace.

Ramm Botanicals
Ryan Weber, Managing Director of Ramm Botanicals, found himself in a similar situation to Paul. Ryan was importing 40,000 units of tissue culture with an estimated market value of up to half a million dollars. When Ryan finally received his stock after a week and a half hold up in quarantine, the plants were alive, albeit in poorer condition than usual. Customers were disgruntled. “That was our biggest concern; losing the customers we have worked very hard to win over. We pride ourselves on being very reliable with tissue culture supply and supplying orders in full. This delay was out of our control, even though we did all the right things right up until that last point of clearance through quarantine,” explains Ryan.

The resolution
Ryan and Paul contacted David Reid from the Nursery & Garden Industry Victoria, before following up with John McDonald, Greenlife Industry Australia’s Biosecurity Manager for help. “This product is highly perishable, and the inspections need to be happening straight away. We cannot have a twelve-day delay,” says Paul.

Ryan was also concerned about the human side of the delay if his customers were not able to receive his tissue culture: “If they did not have those plants there to be processed, you have a lot of people that are either full time employees that are standing around not doing much or if they are casual, then they would be laid off.”
John and David were able to use their departmental contacts to expedite a resolution, resulting in the following department communique:

“The DAWR will adhere to the service standard and inspect all nursery stock within 3 days irrespective of who is handling the consignment (private importers or freight forwarders) and nursery stock will be classed as a priority perishable commodity. DAWR staff have acknowledged that they got the communication wrong in the first instance and realise they should have come to the peak industry bodies first and then progressed this matter together.”

Both Ryan and Paul are appreciative of the support that Greenlife Industry Australia provided to them.

“John pushed hard so that our issue got pushed forward so that ultimately got the inspections done immediately. So that was a great result,” says Paul, “What was going to be really disastrous has now come back to business as usual.”

Greenlife Industry Australia is here to help
“Greenlife Industry Australia, on behalf of the wider industry, were able to step up and make these representations to the Department of Agriculture,” Glenn Fenton, Greenlife Industry Australia’s new President explains.

“We have an agile organization with the contacts in place to respond quickly to these sorts of issues,” Glenn continues.

“The purpose of Greenlife Industry Australia is to operate at this level where the state associations have an issue represented to them from their membership base, which is impacting on them,” says Glenn, “And it is up to Greenlife Industry Australia with its contacts to make the correct representations at the highest level to get the issues resolved as quickly as possible. This is exactly what the new model is supposed to represent.”

If you have any concerns about import conditions and/or biosecurity measures that you would like Greenlife Industry Australia to take up on your behalf, please contact Peter Vaughan directly via or on (02) 8861 5100.

Further information
To stay up to date with changes to import requirements, including updates on Brown marmorated stink bug seasonal measures, sign up to receive the Department of Agriculture’s Import Industry Advice Notices.