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Cultivating a healthy future for Australian Citrus

Publication date: 4 April 2023

Hort Innovation is working to address biosecurity threats directly impacting the Australian citrus industry. Delivered by the Department of Primary Industries, the five-year project Reduce the risk of illegally imported citrus budwood (CT19004) was contracted in August 2022. These threats are a direct result of the illegal importation of citrus varieties, with the primary diseases of concern including huanglongbing (HLB), citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC) and the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP).

This project seeks to ensure Australian citrus is disease-free by delivering healthy propagation material and preventing incurable diseases from entering the nation’s citrus orchards. Citrus is one of Australia's most important horticultural export crops, and protecting its health status is vital. 

Hear from Dr Gregory Chandler, Hort Innovation Head of Biosecurity R&D, about the program. 

What is the main aim of this project? 

The project aims to understand what citrus cultivars (or varieties) are entering Australia illegally (e.g., via returning air passengers or mail). By identifying the citrus cultivars arriving illegally, the citrus industry can import these legally through a post-entry quarantine system and make them commercially available. 

The program should reduce the desire for people to smuggle these cultivars into Australia, which in turn reduces the biosecurity risk to the citrus industry. Top pests and pathogens of citrus have been detected at the borders when budwood (or plant shoots) have been intercepted at the airport or mail centre. 

Why is citrus budwood being brought into Australia illegally, and what is the threat to Australian citrus growers and industry? 

There are several reasons that people may want to smuggle citrus cuttings into Australia. One is to avoid Australia’s post-entry quarantine system, which requires new citrus cultivars to be grown in isolation for several years. Growing the cultivars in isolation ensures they are pest-free before entering the national citrus repository run by AusCitrus. By avoiding the post-entry quarantine system, a grower would gain several years on their competitors to get the variety to market. 

Another reason that people illegally import citrus cuttings into Australia is due to cultural preferences. Specific citrus cultivars may be the favourite of a particular culture that cannot find them commercially available in Australia. Consequently, people bring the cuttings illegally to Australia to grow and consume. The above explanations are both a massive risk to Australian citrus production. 

How will this project be helpful to the citrus industry and growers in the future? 

Making sought-after citrus cultivars available, and publicising that they are available, would significantly reduce the risk of illegal importation. In particular, this would address the second concern of illegal importation for cultural reasons, which is probably our highest risk area.

Legalising citrus cultivars will protect the citrus industry from the most significant pests and diseases, such as huanglongbing spread by citrus psyllids and citrus canker. The Australian citrus industry will be productive and supported to access critical international markets.

Do you have any other comments to make about this project that is important for readers to understand?

The Australian citrus industry has been at the forefront of industry-led biosecurity initiatives for many years. This proactive approach continues to highlight their leadership in biosecurity risk management and compliments the traditional investment in the national biosecurity system by Australia’s federal, state and territory governments. Tackling issues that are typically not the in the remit of government biosecurity agencies helps to ensure that the citrus industry will remain profitable by having confidence that Australia is free of the world’s most serious citrus pests and pathogens. 

If you are interested in staying informed about the project’s progress and want to access material that is produced, visit the Hort Innovation website here.