Australia leads global fight against our number-one National Priority Plant Pest

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories like this. Xylella fastidiosis (Xf), here causing leaf 'scorching' and discolouration, is regarded as one of the world's most damaging plant pests.

Experts from six countries will converge on Brisbane between 17 and 19 May to share the latest information about Xylella fastidiosa (Xf), a deadly bacterium that the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) has called “one of the world’s most devastating plant pests”.

While the bacterium has not yet arrived on Australian shores, Xylella ranked number one on Australia’s ‘Top 40 National Priority Plant Pests’ list for 2016.

The 2017 International Symposium on Xylella fastidiosa, hosted by DAWR and funded from the Stronger Biosecurity Quarantine Initiative and the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, will see experts from the US, France, Italy, New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia exchange knowledge and experiences with regard to this “untreatable” bacterium.

“The department is hosting the first-ever Australian conference on the pest to ensure we are on the front foot in managing the high risk Xylella poses to Australian industries,” says Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer Dr Kim Ritman.

The aim of the Symposium is to increase awareness and understanding about Xf and its potential insect vectors. On the agenda will be current diagnostic and surveillance technologies, and options for Xf threats, including R&D and collaboration.

The two-day conference will be followed by a surveillance and diagnostics workshop. 

Why is Xf such a problem?

This microscopic invader packs a serious punch: it attacks an array of species, including grapes, citrus and stone-fruit crops, causing scorching, browning and loss of leaves, shunted shoots, reduced fruit size over time, dieback and eventual death of the affected plant.

Once Xf secures a foothold, it can spread rapidly.

“Originating in the Americas and now present in Europe, China and Iran, Xylella fastidiosa is a deadly and highly invasive plant pest that has wreaked havoc for Californian grape growers and wiped out more than a million ancient olive trees in southern Italy,” explains Dr Ritman.

“The exotic Xylella bacterium has the potential to severely hurt our citrus, grape, olive, peach, plum and forestry industries.”

Olive groves in the Chianti region of Italy: Italian olive plantations have been devastated by the Xylella fastidiosis bacterium in recent years.
Olive groves in the Chianti region of Italy: Italian olive plantations have been devastated by the Xylella fastidiosis bacterium in recent years.
Nicholas Ng, Flickr CC

How will the Symposium help protect us from Xf?

“The 2017 International Symposium on Xylella fastidiosa is a critical forum for addressing our ability to detect the disease in Australia and, if [it is] detected here, our preparedness to respond quickly and implement effective management processes,” Dr Ritman contends.

“The symposium means Australia will benefit from international expertise and take a scientific approach to manage this major threat, continuing to work offshore to ensure this serious biosecurity risk stays offshore.

“Australia’s biosecurity system is built on a partnership approach, involving government, industry, scientists, experts and the general public all working together to protect Australia’s agricultural industries – which have a projected gross value of $64 billion – and unique environment from pests and diseases present in many other parts of the world,” he says.

Do your bit to help keep Australia Xylella-free

“While the biosecurity work we do in Australia – offshore, at our borders and onshore – and the knowledge gained from initiatives like the 2017 International Symposium help to manage the risk, support from the public as well as producers is crucial in ensuring [that] this devastating pest continues to stay offshore,” Dr Ritman asserts.

“Producers need to be taking proactive measures to identify and report any unusual pest or disease symptoms, minimising the likelihood of disease coming onto their farms,” he says.

“Similarly, the general public has a role to play. By not bringing plants or seeds into Australia through the airport or mail, we can work together to keep Australia Xylella-free.”

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