Supporting Australia’s food security and agriculture industry
Over 90% of fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, and eggs sold in Australia are domestically produced, and over half of Australia’s agricultural produce is exported. As an important contributor to the Australian economy, the gross value of Australia’s agricultural food production is forecast at $79 billion for 2023-24, and our agricultural exports are forecast at $65 billion. Meeting future food demand in a sustainable way, and supporting Australia’s economy, requires major advances in productivity, market systems, natural resource management and governance.
Plant diseases cost Australia millions of dollars each year through reduced productivity, increased production costs, and impacted trade both locally and internationally, and adversely effects our environment and biodiversity. As our environment changes, experts anticipate increased risks in the extent and severity of pest and disease outbreaks. Improved access to critical information is a national priority to enable data-driven decision making.
In support of Australia’s food security and economy, Bioplatforms Australia is funding a Plant Pathogen ‘Omics Initiative. Bioplatforms Australia’s General Manager, Andrew Gilbert said, “This initiative will generate high quality molecular reference data for plant pathogens in Australia. It will be used as a foundational data asset to support fundamental research and development in plant protection and provide an effective national biosecurity surveillance system.”
Data will be developed through collaboration with national plant pathogen researchers and focus on key pathogens including Pectobacterium/Dickeya. “This is a yield-reducing factor for potatoes and brassicas,” Gilbert said. “In Australia, we rely on PCR assays developed for bacteria isolated on crops grown overseas. Genetic diversity is well known in this bacteria group, so a greater understanding of the Australian isolates will inform more precise diagnostics to assist in disease management strategies.” This program will involve collaboration across Australia including Agriculture Victoria, Department of Primary Industries New South Wales, Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland.
Another pathogen of focus is Ascochyta lentis causing Ascochyta blight (AB) which affects lentils. “Australia is the third-largest exporter of high-quality lentil grain, and AB is responsible for up to 50% of crop yield loss, and costs an additional A$10m in mitigation strategies,” Gilbert said. “A joint SARDI – Centre for Crop and Disease Management – Agriculture Victoria program will build genomic resources and use international networks to collect isolates to assist with monitoring pathogen population changes. Disease management programs will be more effectively targeted.”
Legume viruses are another priority of this initiative through the collaboration of the University of Queensland and the Australian Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. In preparation for the integration of the Australian and Norfolk Island biosecurity systems, and to determine the risk of transfer of economically important pathogens between the two regions, biosecurity surveys of the island were undertaken. “Genome sequencing data from more than 80 samples collected from Norfolk Island, which exhibited virus-like symptoms, will form the basis of the project, which will aid in the management of biosecurity risks to Australian mainland crop production,” Gilbert said. “It will also aid producers on Norfolk Island to maintain their relatively independent food production and support the island’s economy by enabling more effective disease control strategies.”
Researchers and industry stakeholders across Australia, and internationally, are already integrating ‘omics data into developing resistant crop varieties, chemical and biological controls, and biosecurity surveillance programs. “This initiative will fill the large gaps in the referential data that are available and improve outcome-driven access to and use of existing data,” Gilbert said.
Bioplatforms Australia Ltd CEO Andrew Gilbert – firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager, Scientific Programs Sarah Richmond – email@example.com
Partnerships and Engagement Dr Kelly Scarlett – firstname.lastname@example.org
Program Manager Dr Mabel Lum – email@example.com
 Agricultural overview: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/research-topics/agricultural-outlook/agriculture-overview#gross-value-of-production-nears-another-record [Accessed 12 June 2023] and Parliamentary Inquiry: Food Security in Australia (Submission 16), 7 December 2022.