Delivering the National Biosecurity & Sustainable Plant Production Program in WA and NT
By Gabrielle Stannus
1. Steve (right) inspecting the crop at Benara Nurseries (Image: Steve Blyth)
Delivering the National Biosecurity and Sustainable Plant Production program across WA and NT is not without its challenges for Plant Protection Officer, Steve Blyth, namely the scale of this region. To ensure that this program can reach a wider audience, Steve works closely with industry stakeholders, including NGIWA and relevant government agencies.
Steve Blyth is one of four Greenlife Industry Australia (GIA) Plant Protection Officers responsible for delivering the objectives of the levy funded National Biosecurity and Sustainable Plant Production program (NY20001) across the country. This national program aims to make production nurseries more resilient by identifying, mitigating and addressing the emerging risks of increasing plant protection and biosecurity threats, climate change and supply chain pressures and influences.
Steve is GIA’s Plant Protection Officer for both Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory (NT), an area covering almost half of this country. WA itself is a large state with a wide geographical spread of production nurseries, greenlife markets, growing media suppliers and tertiary institutions servicing the diverse horticultural supply chains of ornamental, landscape, fruit, vegetable and forestry.
Fortunately for Steve, he loves driving as it is a big part of his job. Steve drives as far east as Nhulunbuy to visit a mine site production nursery he helped to accreditation two years ago. He regularly drives south to Albany, up through the kauri and jarrah forests to the avocado and blue gum production nurseries around Pemberton, on to Busselton and Bunbury in the Margaret River region, and into and around Perth. Any further north than Geraldton, a round trip of 830 kilometres from Perth (more than 9 hours driving), then Steve will catch a plane, checking in on production nurseries in Port Hedland and Kununarra. And then there is the NT, where Steve works with production nurseries in Katherine and Darwin.
In total, Steve works regularly with more than 50 production nurseries and allied greenlife suppliers across plant protection, biosecurity and sustainable production practices. He supports them with technical advice including irrigation, growing media and energy, to name a few. Other critical areas include extension activities addressing best management practice, environmental and natural resource management and plant protection and biosecurity under the Australian Plant Production Standard (APPS), i.e. the Nursery Industry Accreditation Scheme Australia (NIASA), EcoHort and BioSecure HACCP.
Steve works with growers to attain accreditation through NIASA and its sub programs, such as the Avocado Nursery Stock Specification. Avanova Nursery and G & S Seedlings have recently received certification against this specification. Steve is currently working with another grower of avocadoes to bring them over the line as they plan and build their new production nursery. Of this grower, Steve says: “He is not reinventing the wheel. The grower is having a look at his situation and thinking "What is the best advice that I can get? He has turned to us and the Best Management Practice guidelines, so we are working together to achieve the best outcome.”
Through the new web-based APPS Audit Management System (AMS), Steve is helping growers to implement best management practice processes and store critical data and generate reports to assist growers manage their cropping systems. The AMS allows the digitisation of important records and task setting for staff including chemical application records, pesticide register, pH and EC recording (water & growing media), crop monitoring and site surveillance. Steve, along with the other PPOs, is an Assistant National Administrator of the AMS, working with the National Biosecurity Manager to ensure the programs, resources and services under NY20001 are appropriately and efficiently delivered across Australia.
Steve has a busy extension and auditing schedule fitting into his broader annual engagement work. Smaller owner-operated sites can be visited in an hour, whilst larger production nurseries with upwards of 150-200 employees can take up to three hours.
“You could never get around the whole lot in one visit. It is physically impossible; they are so big. So, I target areas of higher risk/reward,” says Steve.
Steve says that the ongoing support of the Nursery & Garden Industry Western Australia (NGIWA) is critical in helping him to achieve the national program’s objectives.
“Matthew Lunn, NGIWA’s CEO, runs some fantastic events, including industry breakfasts. That is a good short, sharp get-together with more than a hundred people in the room. At the last breakfast, I was able to speak about our NY20001 program and the benefits of the APPS and AMS to a captive audience,” says Steve.
Steve is also working with Matthew to review processes and procedures outlined within GIA’s new Landscape Nursery Stock Specification, a NIASA sub-program. It is becoming apparent that the landscape nursery stock supply chain is seeking a higher level of confidence in the quality of the nursery stock supplied. A third-party certification, such as the NIASA Landscape Nursery Stock Specification, has the potential to provide the confidence desired along supply chains.
As a member of the Western Australian State Government’s Horticultural Advisory Committee and its Myrtle Rust working group, Steve can present the national position on our domestic plant biosecurity system whilst providing technical advice and support to NGIWA as required.
“Businesses here in WA have commented on the value in the combined accessibility to both NGIWA and the GIA Plant Protection Officer, complementing each other across their areas of operation,” says Steve.
Having run his own production nursery for over 20 years, Steve is also mindful of the training needs of the next generation of horticulturists entering the industry. He works closely with teachers and lecturers at TAFE WA and Darwin University to ensure that they remain up to date with industry best practice. Their students and apprentices are the future staff and owners of production nurseries, as are members of NGIWA’s NextGen group, which Steve also regularly presents to.
Steve’s workload is indeed busy and varied as he navigates between the greenlife industry’s national priorities and the needs of growers on the ground in WA and NT.