Getting smarter with biosecurity

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By Michael Beer, General Manager, Business Development, AgriFutures Australia

Recent events such as the detection of varroa mite in local beehives and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia might have put biosecurity firmly in the spotlight but it’s always top of mind for Australia’s food and fibre industry.

Australia has been at the forefront of biosecurity for a long time and while we are well protected as an island, it pays for us to stay vigilant.

The return of global travel post-pandemic, increased international trade and the changing climate means new opportunities for pests, diseases and weeds to enter Australia and the potential for more and increasingly complex outbreaks to occur across sectors.

For the food and fibre industry, biosecurity has a direct bottom-line impact. Not just in terms of how it can impact productive capacity, but because it’s central to how we gain access to new and high value markets for our products. From the farm to the shipping container to the supermarket shelf, strong biosecurity underpins our sector’s success.

This is one of the reasons we want producers to continue to get smarter about biosecurity. It’s not just about paperwork that has to be filled out, it is a combination of taking the required actions and protective measures to ensure a farm or business is secure, and simultaneously having the tools and the capacity to identify a threat and knowing what to do next.

This is where industry channels, local agriculture departments, veterinarians, agronomists and networks of producers come into their own. There are extensive resources available, tailored to the needs of specific industries, that help to make biosecurity a straightforward and simple process for farmers. These include templates for on-farm biosecurity plans, instructional videos, webinars and even telephone hotlines.

Technology is the other factor making agricultural biosecurity easier. Thanks to tools like surveillance drones, artificial intelligence and diagnostic technology in laboratories, Australia is detecting and preventing pest and disease outbreaks more efficiently than ever, and across remote areas and different environments.

For the honeybee industry, remote hive monitoring technologies like Hivemind and ApisProtect use in-hive sensors to detect deteriorating conditions from pests or diseases. And in the tea tree industry Taranis and Regrow technologies use satellite or drone images to detect crop stress early and help growers locate pests, weeds and disease.

In the Australian chicken meat industry there is a an innovative detect-alert-deter technology solution able to minimise the threat of avian influenza. Wild birds, particularly waterbirds, are carriers of avian influenza viruses and have the potential to infect chickens if the species come into contact. The answer is a machine learning vision-based surveillance system built to automatically detect wild birds,  alert the farmer and then activate physical deterrents like noises and flares that could scare them away.

Innovative thinking and sophisticated simplicity is also what’s behind Queensland-based startup Ceres Tag’s world first direct to satellite animal tracking and data platform which has huge potential when it comes to managing biosecurity. The 32 gram, matchbox sized tag continuously monitors all aspects of animal behaviour, health and welfare meaning producers can be confident about where their animals are and where they have been.

What we have available for Australian producers facing the challenge of biosecurity in 2022 is a unique combination of useful information tailored to every industry and innovative technologies that can be deployed to work smarter, not harder. What we need now is for Australian producers to take action and use the tools available at hand to protect our great country.

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