The unknown a big risk to biosecurity

Within seconds of entering the conference room, three-year-old Ayla found an apple in a delegate’s bag, demonstrating the acute sense of smell of detector dogs.

Ministry for Primary Industries detector dog handler Sarah Carley and Ayla were among the star attractions at the Zespri Innovations Symposium at Mount Maunganui in October.


Ministry for Primary Industries detector dog handler Sarah Carley and Ayla.

As part of the border security system which aims to prevent unwanted pests and diseases entering New Zealand, the pair work 11 and a half hour shifts in airports and seaports.

Ayla loves to work, and it’s not just her highly sensitive nose which makes her so great. Her gentle nature and appealing appearance means people do not feel threatened when she comes sniffing around.

However, as important as the work of the dog teams are to the kiwifruit industry, they can’t detect every threat, says Zespri’s innovation leader, crop protection, and biosecurity expert Dr Elaine Gould.

The fungus ceratocystis fimbriata, which is not currently known to be in New Zealand orchards but is killing kiwifruit vines in Brazil, is of real concern.

“We can’t see it and you don’t know it’s there until the plant wilts and the xylem is discoloured. Currently we can’t detect it, but it is good to know it exists.”

The fungus is quite common around the world. A form of it exists in New Zealand, causing black spot in kumara, and has been here for many years.

That fungus, and other potential threats is why biosecurity is the responsibility of everyone in the industry, says Elaine. Growers must remain vigilant, and report anything unusual they see on their orchards.

The pathways for pests and disease to enter New Zealand are many, and the risk is heightened by the growing trend for consumers to buy goods on-line. Air freight has increased, as have visitor numbers, including those arriving on cruise ships.

The incursion of the bacterial disease Psa-V in 2010 highlighted gaps in the industry’s knowledge, and while a lot of those gaps have been filled, there may be others which present potential threats.

To meet those challenges, Zespri and Kiwifruit Vine Health is part of a biosecurity strategy group made up of Scion, Ministry for Primary Industries, Plant & Food Research, NZ Avocado, and Better Border Biosecurity (B3), a multi-partner, cooperative science collaboration researching ways to reduce the entry and establishment of new plant pests and diseases in New Zealand.


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