Tavish Eenjes

Plant biosecurity is a key issue in Australia, as food, sustainable timber and other plant-based material requirements continue to increase. Despite this, plant biosecurity initiatives are unnoticed and underappreciated by the wider public, while other biosecurity threats, such as the recent efforts to curtail the incursion of Varroa mite in New South Wales, make national headlines. Given this, it was refreshing and encouraging to hear about the efforts being made to safeguard plants in Australia from experts from across Australia and beyond.

It was a privilege to share my PhD research in fungal pathogens, amidst the other incredible presentations at the PBRI Symposium. It was a reminder that while such university research work is important, it is also key to not lose sight of the application, community integration, and policy associated with the results. Even more importantly, it was a chance to learn what biosecurity measures are actually desired and required in the field.

At the PBRI Symposium we heard about applying research in the field, liaising with growers, and developing policy to improve Australia’s plant biosecurity measures. Speakers addressed a range of key biosecurity areas, including preparedness, surveillance, building biosecurity capabilities and improving our resilience to pests and disease. I found it particularly inspiring to hear about the important partnerships formed between growers, industry, and government to manage and implement effective, sustainable, and affordable biosecurity measures, both within Australia and with our neighbours in New Zealand and across the Pacific.

As a young person from Generation Z, this was an amazing opportunity to hear from and speak to professionals who dedicate themselves to safeguarding Australia’s current and future plant industries and native vegetation. Networking with people from across Australia and beyond, from a range of organisations, government departments and universities, has encouraged me to pursue my dream of a career in plant biosecurity. I look forward to continuing to learn and develop my skills to help safeguard our plants from the issues that threaten them into the future and thank the PBRI for the opportunity to attend and speak at this conference.

Bianca Rodrigues Jardim
Attending the 2022 PBRI Symposium was an incredible experience that allowed me to gain a more holistic view of Australian Biosecurity as well as the research that is driving advances and innovation in this space. I particularly enjoyed the variety of speakers and being exposed to the work being done outside of my field of expertise. These included, for example, the importance of local, Indigenous knowledge and culture systems, and the economic impacts of diseases/incursions. Exposure to these broad range of topics, and the diverse people behind them, was especially valuable for me at these early stages of my career. Together, these experiences have helped me appreciate the importance of my current research, and the many ways in which I may contribute to plant biosecurity in the future.

The opportunity to meet and present my three-minute PhD presentation with the other Ritman Scholarship recipients (Tavish Eenjes, Rebecca Degnan, and Salome Wilson) on the International Day of Plant Health was also a highlight. It was an exciting opportunity to hear how other PhD students are contributing to plant biosecurity, and has fostered insightful conversations since the symposium ended. Overall, the symposium was incredibly well-organised, and facilitated really insightful conversations – whether at the end of the presentations, during the tea and lunch breaks, or at the symposium dinner. I’d like to thank the committee for selecting me to present my PhD work on understanding phytoplasma epidemiology threatening vegetable production in Australia, as well as my supervisors (Fiona Constable, Brendan Rodoni, Lucy Tran-Nguyen, Cherie Gambley) and colleagues for their continued support.

Salome Wilson

I am grateful for the support of the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative in providing the Ritman Scholarship for PhD researchers to attend the Plant Biosecurity Research Symposium held at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide. The symposium was an excellent opportunity to engage and make new connections with the biosecurity community across industry, government and research sectors.

It was fascinating to see strong connections in approaches to plant health and biosecurity across vast geographical areas and highly diverse crop species and production systems. The partnerships panel discussion with Dr James Buwalda, Dr Irene Kernot, Baldissera Giovani and Dr Anne Walters was a highlight, emphasising the inter-personal and inter-institutional relationships that are so critical to making progress on shared priorities. Importantly, the entire lifecycle from relationship building into project deployment was discussed, including the successes and challenges along the path from idea to project completion.

Another facet of diversity in the biosecurity space was the wide range of technological approaches. This spanned the novel and highly advanced, for example, detection of volatile chemical signatures using biosensors and 3D scanning at border entry points. Equally important for biosecurity outcomes is the investment in person-to-person interaction, with farmers at Plant Health Clinics in the Pacific region, market gardeners at the urban fringe in SA and Victoria and direct text message updates from growers in the field in NSW. Learning about so many different project designs and implementation approaches was fascinating, and it was great to see so many examples where this was refined through an iterative process, testing and adapting the technology to generate a positive outcome that is aligned with the priorities of the community.

I also enjoyed seeing projects at different stages, and hearing about the milestones and roadblocks faced from the first lab tests to broad deployment and use. Seeing the whole lifespan of projects as well as those still in the earlier stages was very encouraging.

Attending the symposium was a valuable experience, giving me an appreciation for the applications of biosecurity research across disciplines. Support through the Kim Ritman Scholarship also gave me the chance to communicate my own progress and findings to a broader audience. Preparing for my presentation encouraged me to think about my work in a new light – returning to what is really important and thinking about the big questions in plant health. It was a real treat to share my PhD research with an audience that is 100% invested and engaged in the critical issues in biosecurity and plant health.

I would like to thank Program Director, Dr Jo Luck and the entire PBRI membership for their support, encouraging the next generation of plant health and biosecurity professionals in memory of Dr Kim Ritman and his contribution to our field. I would strongly encourage anyone considering to go ahead and apply for this scholarship, it has been a great experience.

Read Rebecca Degnan’s report here