Everyday plant health heroes
Principal Plant Biosecurity Officer, Biosecurity and Animal Welfare Division, Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources
To protect plants and our industries, we have to be able to be proactive to deal with outbreaks and reduce the cost to our producers.
How did you choose your job? Or did it choose you?
I chose this current job as part of my career move to be involved with making changes and having an impact within plant biosecurity. I am a molecular plant pathologist by training and started in this discipline in 1998 in the Northern Territory. Originally involved in the academic world and then joining the NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources in 2007 after completing my PhD. I played a major role in establishing plant health/protection molecular diagnostics within the Department, have been involved in numerous exotic plant pest incursions and research projects since 2007. In late 2018, I felt it was time to step up and outside of my comfort technical zone and be involved with the risk based strategic planning and preparedness space within plant biosecurity after a major restructure within the Department. It has been challenging and exciting at the same time. It is also a great learning experience working within plant industries and now plant biosecurity. To view biosecurity in a different perspective.
How long have you worked in this industry?
I have been working within this industry since 1998. First as a Research Associate on a sugarcane phytoplasma project that led to working on strawberries then phytoplasma genomics for my PhD. Introducing molecular diagnostics to plant industries in the NT was an exciting change and it has been great to watch the uptake and expansion to be a strong section within our biosecurity plant health laboratories where both diagnostics and research is undertaken.
What does plant health mean to you?
I strongly believe that everyone and everything relies on plants for sustenance. To protect plants and our industries, we have to be able to be proactive to deal with outbreaks and reduce the cost to our producers. I am saddened and frustrated that there is not enough resources in the plant world. It implies that plants are not as important as animals. With that in mind, I like to remind people that without plants, what do animals eat?
What are your greatest achievements in this role?
If I speak on my role since I joined the NT Department, it is the establishment of plant molecular diagnostics. Secondly, has been my linkages with colleagues interstate and internationally. I have connections with some colleagues since 1998 and I treasure those relationships, they are not only great professionals who helped and provided advice throughout my career but now they are also treasured friends. Lastly, is the legacy I have left in training and giving early career scientist opportunities to work in plant health in the NT, we are a small jurisdiction and so a very mobile workforce.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Writing lots of research ideas, concepts, policies, scoping for innovative ways to do research and trying to find my place in the plant biosecurity preparedness space. Oh and too many meetings.
What advice would you give anybody wanting to get into the industry?
Be prepared to think outside the square, be flexible, collaborate, engage industry early, work with industry and stakeholders. Bring people on the journey and experience the challenges together. Biosecurity is the ‘in’ thing at the moment, good or bad, it is exacerbated by how easily people can travel around the world, the risk pathways have increased but the technology is at our finger tips. Be ready to be innovative with limited resources and always, always promote biosecurity in a positive manner and support our industries.