Cut flower imports: Serious pest incursions continue

By Gabrielle Stannus

The Federal Government has improved biosecurity measures controlling the import of cut flowers into this country. However, recent repeated detections of Serpentine leaf miner show that further work is needed to protect our horticultural and agricultural industries from serious threat.

Australia is a net importer of fresh cut flowers, with smaller amounts of exports every year. For the year ending June 2019, Australia exported $10.1 million and imported $73.4 million worth of cut flowers 1 . According to the former Department of Agriculture, cut flower and foliage imports to Australia have increased in recent years. From 2007 to 2018, the number of cut flower consignments arriving in Australia increased more than threefold, from 2,271 to 8,097 consignments 2 . During that period, eight countries exported more than 3,000 consignments: Kenya, Malaysia, Colombia, Singapore, Ecuador, Thailand, India, and China. Kenya was the largest exporter of cut flowers and foliage to Australia. Kenya’s exports (18,840 consignments) were more than two times greater than Malaysia, the next largest exporter for that period (7,183 consignments) 3 .

Image captions
1. For the year ending June 2019, Australia exported $10.1 million and imported $73.4 million worth of cut flowers 1 (Image: Hort Innovation)
2. Net cut flower imports have increased in the last five years (Image: Hort Innovation)
3. Over the last three years, Kenya was the largest importer of cut flowers to Australia, followed closely by Malaysia and Ecuador (Image: Hort Innovation)


Managing pests offshore
All consignments of fresh cut flowers and foliage entering Australia must be endorsed by the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) of the exporting country as being free of live pests of biosecurity concern. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) currently accepts several methods for the offshore management of live arthropod pests of biosecurity concern:

  • NPPO-approved systems approach, i.e. incorporating integrated pest management measures at different points in the supply chain
  • Pre-shipment methyl bromide fumigation
  • NPPO-approved alternative pre-shipment treatments, e.g. low-temperature phosphine fumigation
  • Import permits, i.e. importers must install additional pest management controls in their supply chain in the exporting country

Import permits were introduced on 1 September 2019 for highly non-compliant and high-volume exporting countries. An import permit is required to import cut flowers and foliage produced using a systems approach from Colombia, Ecuador and Kenya. However, flowers produced and treated using methyl bromide fumigation or an alternative treatment, approved by the country’s NPPO do not require a permit to be imported into Australia 4 . DAWE claims that non-compliance has continued to improve since that time, with countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Kenya reducing the number of live pests arriving in Australia on cut flowers and foliage by up to 57 per cent 5 . There has also been a significant reduction in the total number and diversity of arthropod pests being intercepted at the Australian border. Thrips, mites and aphids continue to be the main pest group intercepted on imported cut flowers and foliage.

Serpentine leaf miner detected in Malaysian cut flowers
However, DAWE recently suspended the systems approach and alternative NPPO-approved disinfestation treatment measures for chrysanthemum cut flowers from Malaysia due to repeated detections of Liriomyza huidobrensis (Serpentine leaf miner). L. huidobrensis is listed as a National Priority Plant Pest list given its potential to tunnel its way through a wide variety of ornamental, grain and vegetable crops 6 . Importers are now required to produce evidence on accompanying phytosanitary certificates that they have been fumigated with methyl bromide to avoid exportation or destruction on arrival in Australia 7 .

A growing threat?
Upon arrival in the country, only a representative sample of consignments are inspected by Biosecurity Officers. Cut flowers are then distributed relatively quickly to wholesale markets and then retail outlets across the country, potentially allowing for the rapid spread of any pest and disease not picked up at border control.

Paul Boland, Managing Director of Ball Australia, is worried that without stricter biosecurity controls, the cut flower trade may well be the pathway for the devastating Xylella fastidiosa to enter Australia. “That is going to be a huge cost to business if we do not follow the right procedures and steps to prevent these diseases coming in the first place,” Paul says.

“If Ball Australia bring in unrooted cuttings for our vegetative program, everything is fumigated with methyl bromide regardless of whether Biosecurity Officers find insects or not. Our imports are treated as if they are infected straightaway,” says Paul.
Paul is concerned that untreated cut flower and foliage released straight into the marketplace increases the likelihood of unwanted pests arriving in the country, in addition to the potential viruses and other diseases that those pests may carry. “Once the cat is out of the bag, there is nothing you can do,” says Paul, “We really need to protect our total agricultural and horticultural industries.”

Greenlife Industry Australia
Peter Vaughan, Greenlife Industry Australia CEO, has been involved in recent discussions with DAWE on this issue through the National Farmers Federation’s Hort Council. “Striking the appropriate balance allowing trade and economic activity to occur whilst ensuring Australia’s competitive and biosecurity advantage is our aim. To retain this advantage we must ensure that we are protected from exotic pests and disease coming into the country,” says Peter, “While we would like the non-compliance to be as close to zero as possible pre-Australia's border, that may be very difficult to achieve. However, post entry, then our expectation would be zero percent non-compliance at the border.”

POSTSCRIPT: Submissions to DAWE’s Draft Pest Risk Analysis for Cut Flower and Foliage Imports—Part 2 closed 20 August 2020. The final report is due for release in early 2021.

Further reading
Department of Agriculture 2019, Final Pest Risk Analysis for Cut Flower and Foliage Imports — Part 1, Department of Agriculture, Canberra https://www.agriculture.gov.au/sites/default/files/sitecollectiondocuments/biosecurity/risk-analysis/plant-reviews/final-report-cut-flowers.pdf

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2020, Draft Pest Risk Analysis for Cut Flower and Foliage Imports—Part 2, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Canberra https://www.agriculture.gov.au/sites/default/files/sitecollectiondocuments/biosecurity/risk-analysis/plant-reviews/final-report-cut-flowers.pdf

ABC TV’s Landline program: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-09/imported-flowers-fuelling-biosecurity-fears/12529126

References
1. Hort Innovation 2020, Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2018/19, (page 468)

2. Department of Agriculture 2019, Final Pest Risk Analysis for Cut Flower and Foliage Imports — Part 1, Department of Agriculture, Canberra (page 28)

3. Department of Agriculture 2019, Final Pest Risk Analysis for Cut Flower and Foliage Imports — Part 1, Department of Agriculture, Canberra (page 29)

4. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2020, Managing pests, viewed 26 February 2020, https://www.agriculture.gov.au/import/goods/plant-products/cut-flowers-foliage/invertebrate-pest-

5. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) 2020, Stakeholder update: imported cut flowers and foliage, viewed 25 August 2020, https://www.awe.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-

6. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2020, Leaf Miner, viewed 25 August 2020, https://www.agriculture.gov.au/pests-diseases-weeds/plant/leaf-miner

7. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2020, 102-2020 – Immediate suspension of systems approach and alternative NPPO approved disinfestation treatment for imported Malaysian chrysanthemums, viewed 25 August 2020, https://www.agriculture.gov.au/import/industry-

Image references
1. Hort Innovation 2020, Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2018/19, page 466
2. Hort Innovation 2020, Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2018/19, page 469
3. Hort Innovation 2020, Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2018/19, page 470