Importance of plant pest surveillance

Plant pest surveillance activities are critical to the Australian and New Zealand agriculture and the biosecurity systems that protect them. Surveillance activities provide benefits to agricultural industries, the community and the environment.

‘Surveillance’ is a system of making and recording checks or inspections for plant pests (a broad term that refers to invertebrates and pathogens that negatively impact plants, plant products, bees, or edible fungi). Plant pests are estimated to cause losses of 20-40% every year, highlighting the significant impact they have on food production, food security, the natural environment and ecosystems.

Australia and New Zealand remain free of many pests that cause problems in other countries. This is due to geographic isolation and effective quarantine measures to date. Despite having strong biosecurity systems in place, increasing volumes of trade and people movement means there’s an ever-increasing risk of introduction of new pests.

Surveillance activities support:

  • Early detection of pests – finding a new pest before it becomes established across a wide area increases the chance of successful eradication or containment. If a pest cannot be eradicated, early detection can help buy time to allow development of management options before it becomes widespread.
  • Domestic and international market access – surveillance data is used in domestic and international market access negotiations. Nil findings of particular pests provide evidence of an absence to countries that want assurances that importing Australian produce will not bring new pests.
  • Determine the extent of pest incursions – if a new pest enters a country or region, delimiting surveillance is needed to determine where it has established.
  • Monitoring pest levels – for pests that are widely present in an area, ongoing monitoring tells us if levels are changing or moving and is vital for ongoing management.

Surveillance is mostly carried out by state governments, but the Australian Government, peak industry bodies, environmental agencies, growers and the Australian community is also involved.

A list of Australia’s most unwanted can be found here. Fact sheets on exotic pests are also available from the PHA website.

For further information, the National Plant Biosecurity Status Report provides a comprehensive summary of Australia’s biosecurity system, including its surveillance components.