Exercise Blueprint provided an opportunity to test the industry's preparedness for a biosecurity emergency

Exercise Blueprint simulation for cotton biosecurity preparedness

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August 14, 2019

Exercise Blueprint has shown the cotton industry has a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of individuals and organisations in the event of a biosecurity incident.

Run by Plant Health Australia (PHA) with support from CRDC, Exercise Blueprint was held in Toowoomba last week. It simulated an incursion of cotton blue disease, caused by cotton leafroll dwarf virus (CLRDV).

Susan Maas heads biosecurity R&D for CRDC and says the main aims of the exercise were to raise awareness of biosecurity issues and roles within the industry; test industry-wide response structures and processes; and investigate the ability to develop appropriate response strategies for the industry’s priority pests.

Cotton blue disease was chosen as the target for the scenario as it is a priority pest for Australia and could have significant impacts should it arrive here. CRDC-supported research undertaken by QDAF Virologist Dr Murray Sharman has already confirmed its presence in Timor Leste, north of Australia. It has led to severe damage in cotton in other countries, most recently USA. Transmission is via a vector endemic to Australia – the cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii) – a major pest of cotton with a host range that includes other commonly grown crops.

Exercise Blueprint involved farmers, agronomists, ginners, CottonInfo, Cotton Australia, the Department of Agriculture, NSW DPI, QDAF and CSD.

“We were really pleased with what came out of the exercise,” Susan said.

“It highlighted our industry is in a really good position for communication with our strong collaborative networks such as CottonInfo and CSD, which have extensive data bases and reach to support Cotton Australia, who represent the industry under the terms of the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD).

“We also have a strong advocate in Cotton Australia and robust R&D ongoing into priority pests.

“The scenario helped clarify how these organisations would work together and interact with the State Department, who under the deed leads the incursion response.”

Should cotton blue disease arrive in Australia, Susan said eradication would be complex, due to being aphid-vectored and a virus with a range of hosts.

“There was some interesting thinking about eradication in terms of managing the vector as opposed to just the virus directly, with thinking around minimising impact on industry,” she said.

“The importance of early detection and isolation of an exotic threat cannot be understated, along with the importance of on-farm management biosecurity measures, such as Come Clean Go Clean, managing weeds (hosts) between seasons and on-farm day-to-day farm cleanliness measures – which we know should be a natural part of any farm business.

“If these measures are already in place it can have a huge effect on isolating and hopefully eradicating a pest.”