Leafminer outbreak highlights biosecurity threat

NSW Farmers has today renewed calls for improved biosecurity funding as vegetable growers in Sydney, and now beyond, come to terms with an outbreak of serpentine leafminer. 

Ian McColl, chair of NSW Farmers’ biosecurity committee, said the detection of the pest in the Sydney basin demonstrated the importance of a robust biosecurity system.

“It’s been a year of biosecurity challenges for New South Wales, including khapra beetle, fall armyworm, and now serpentine leafminer,” Mr McColl said.

“We need governments to take biosecurity seriously. Australia was one of a very small number of countries free from serpentine leafminer, and now we’ve lost that advantage because of a breach at the border.” 

Mr McColl said it was imperative that governments prioritise biosecurity both pre-border and at the border, investing in detection and offshore capacity building.

“This includes developing a long-term funding model for biosecurity that places the onus on people who create risk, rather than leaving our agricultural industries to clean up once a pest has been detected.”

"We’re calling on the Federal Government to re-commit to the onshore biosecurity levy, which it walked away from earlier this year. If we are to reach 30 billion in farm gate output we can’t have a new bug crawling out of a container on a weekly basis."

Mr McColl said NSW Farmers was working with the NSW Department of Primary Industries to advise members on the situation.

“We want to make sure that our growers are well-represented in biosecurity discussions that affect them, and that they have up-to-date information on the response to serpentine leafminer.”
“We’re also concerned that the incursion wasn’t immediately contained and that other states are now confirming cases of serpentine leafminer outside of NSW.”

NSW Farmers horticulture chair Guy Gaeta said growers across the state were now concerned about challenges for pest management and market access.

“This is a very serious matter for horticultural industries, who are already struggling after drought and bushfire, and are struggling to find harvest labour," Mr Gaeta said.

“Serpentine leafminer is hard to treat with chemicals so now industry needs to spend considerable resources dealing with it. Horticulture already operates on low margins so this is a serious impost for our growers.” 

Mr Gaeta said government needed to learn from this incursion and seriously scrutinise risk pathways that could introduce exotic pests.

“When we’re considering import risks for produce – including the current risk assessment of US apples for fireblight – we need to get the balance right,” Mr Gaeta said.

“Trade is important but we can only trade internationally if we keep our industries free from serious pests and diseases.”

Date: Tuesday, 24 November 2020
Media Contact:  Michael Burt  | 0428 228 988 | burtm@nswfarmers.org.au