A REPORT from federal authorities has highlighted the risk of a severe wheat rust outbreak to the nation’s exports.
The report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimates a nationwide outbreak of the wheat rust strain Ug99 could cost Australia up to $1.4bn over 10 years.
ABARES executive director Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds said the results of a report highlighted the importance of keeping Australia’s $6bn wheat industry disease free.
“The Ug99 strain is not present in Australia, but poses a major risk to the wheat industry in terms of revenue losses and increased production costs, should it arrive in the country,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
“It is a highly virulent strain of wheat stem rust that has overcome 17 of 34 stem rust resistance genes found in wheat.”
The report provides a comparison of the costs to successful versus unsuccessful prevention and on farm biosecurity practices.
Dr Hatfield-Dodds warned of the danger of a restrictions on Australian exports.
“Disruptions to Australian wheat exports may also result if Ug99 -sensitive markets were to ban imports of Australian wheat,” he said.
“Eradication of Ug99 would likely only be technically feasible if the rust is detected while still contained within a very small area with a light spore load, so it is crucial we take measures to keep Ug99 from entering the country in the first place.”
Dr Hatfield-Dodds said significant work was being done in surveillance and monitoring of pathogen populations.
According to ABARES, the most recent and severe outbreak of wheat rust in Australia was in 1973 which was estimated to have cost the wheat industry between $200m and $300m at the time, equivalent to $1.8bn to $2.7bn in 2014–15 dollars.
The strain is named Ug99 because it was found in Uganda in 1999.