The Victorian exotic identification network CROPSAFE was first piloted in 2007-08 and became operational in 2009. Most Victorian crops are viewed by private agronomists and tapping into this resource was considered essential for enhanced passive biosecurity. One hundred and seven agronomists were recruited, covering a range of businesses, regions and levels of experience. Training on identification of exotics was provided with kits to submit samples of unknown crop problems for identification. The advantage to participating agronomists was “free” diagnostics for themselves and their clients of unknown issues. Agronomists were keen to sign up as they perceived a business advantage to do so, but industry good was also identified from surveys.
The primary aim of the network was early detection of exotics and hence a greater chance of eradication. A secondary aim was “proof of absence” data for interstate and overseas trade certification. Once a year, agronomists are surveyed as to their coverage of crops and areas monitored. Due to the confidential nature of the information collected from agronomy businesses, trust within the CROPSAFE collaboration has been essential. The program has now built high levels of engagement with agronomists, with area freedom coverage of over two million hectares achieved for the past two years (two thirds of the total Victorian crop area).
During the year, crop alerts are sent out when endemic pests are first discovered and summary data of diagnoses is disseminated to agronomists.
Two Agriculture Victoria agronomist staff @ (0.3 FTE each) manage the network, sending out kits, updating contact details and staff changes while the diagnostics allocation is 0.5FTE.
Other advantages of a network of private agronomists with trusted links to the department is the intelligence gained, as was the case with Beet Western Yellows Virus, Russian Wheat Aphid outbreak and emergency responses such as floods.