Don’t Start a Cluster

09 Dec 2020

‘Cluster’ just might be 2020’s word-of-the-year.

In the past six months we’ve watched and learnt as a deadly virus has spread through countries, communities, and families. We’ve also learnt the value of mitigating spread through quarantine and isolation.

Anyone who’s business has been affected by a biosecurity problem will be familiar with the containment efforts.

In our plant-based industries we’ve learnt to identify and contain many different biosecurity problems over the past few years – fruit flies, myrtle rust, kauri dieback and others. These each represent an obvious risk to our environment, and a latent risk to the industry and individual businesses.

Just as with COVID clusters, every business growing, storing, and distributing plants carries some risk of spreading biosecurity hazards into different locations through the community.

This isn’t going to help your reputation – getting a cluster named after your business would undo years of hard graft and grafting.

But the costs could go much wider than any single business, they could risk bringing the entire industry into disrepute.

Many biosecurity hazards can cross-contaminate different plant species and even families. Which means pests spread on ornamental plants can also get into commercial crops, with implications for horticulture, employment, and exports.

At NZ Plant Producers, we saw this threat in May 2017 when myrtle rust was first detected in New Zealand. As you’ll be well-aware, this fungal disease attacks Myrtaceae species, and this diverse family includes ornamentals, timber species, commercial crops (including feijoa), and many native species, including manuka, pohutukawa, and rata.

So when myrtle rust was discovered here, there was a lot at stake and a lot of resources invested in preventing its spread.

Not surprisingly, there was also loud calls for harsh measures. We quickly saw that some of the proposed reactions would have closed nurseries and businesses that relied on them.

So, working with government agencies, NZ Plant Producers was able to establish myrtle rust protocols to help plant businesses identify and reduce the risk of carrying and spreading myrtle rust to clients and their neighbours.

The myrtle rust protocols are a good example of the industry taking the initiative. Everyone in the plant supply chain has a role to protect each other.

Biosecurity is a major part of our role at NZ Plant producers, with a dedicated Biosecurity and Technical Manager. We are regularly working with government agencies to ensure our biosecurity protections are effective while letting nurseries and plant businesses thrive.

This article originally appeared in NZLandscaper magazine




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