Working together keeps crops safe

Working together keeps crops safe

“Government, industry and community all working together is the key to identifying any plant disease outbreak and minimising its impact.” So, says Australian plant pathologist Frank Henry.

Frank is a well-known and highly respected plant health expert in the state of Victoria, with over 25 years’ experience. Including his work for the government’s Agriculture Victoria CropSafe program, examining plants to identify any pests and diseases.


The CropSafe program is delivered by government working with major agribusiness companies and a network of private agronomists.

It is an active, self-help ‘eyes in the field’ plant health surveillance system, looking out for exotic pests and diseases.

It is considered a reliable and credible source due to its working partnership with the industry and established network of agronomists.

The CropSafe program receives plant samples, analyses them, reports and records. Individual agronomists are emailed test results and the whole network receives monthly updates on disease occurrence and trends.

The outbreak

The winter growing season of 2014 saw one of the worst outbreaks of turnip yellows virus (formerly beet western yellow virus) in Australia.

The swift action of the CropSafe program helped to minimise crop losses in Victoria.

During the outbreak over 600 canola samples were sent to CropSafe laboratories for testing. That’s three times the usual tests run in a full year.

Testing was a massive effort undertaken by plant pathologist Frank Henry and virologist Dr Mohammad Aftab.

“Being the ‘go to’ place for testing and advice on plant health we were able to track the spread of the turnip yellows virus and produce an up-to-the minute live map on the internet.”

Using technology to reach people

There was a fair amount of concern and confusion in the industry, and growing panic in communities as the virus was seen as potential threat to their livelihoods.

“Mapping the size of the outbreak enabled us to notify industry and keep communities updated.”

During the outbreak technology was used to live stream meetings, with Twitter and Facebook providing timely updates.

The use of the internet was a key tool in providing up to date information for people to see for themselves the spread of the outbreak and take the right action.

“Easy access to information helped to calm concerns and get people focused on deciding whether to spray or not to spray to control the green peach aphid that spreads the virus.”

“We were all working together, with the same information at the same time.”

Keeping crops safe

CropSafe now has a network of over 200 experienced agronomists continually looking for exotic pests and diseases in Victoria.

Author: Nicole Cairns, Agriculture Victoria