On May 28-29, the Better Border Biosecurity (B3) collaboration celebrated its tenth birthday by hosting a national biosecurity conference in Wellington with the theme “Ten years on – Adding Value to New Zealand’s Plant Biosecurity System through Research”.  Bringing key researchers and end-users together for this conference provided an opportunity to review B3’s progress and major achievements, highlight key issues and challenges, and strengthen the relationships that underpin the effectiveness of this collaboration.

The primary aim of this conference was to recognise ten years of government-funded border biosecurity research (including B3’s forerunner “Improved Biosecurity”), with an emphasis on the critical importance of research to New Zealand’s biosecurity system. The conference highlighted some of the significant outcomes that have arisen from the B3 research collaboration.  Additionally, the conference emphasized student participation in the B3 programme, which has bolstered future capability requirements for border biosecurity.

Nathan Guy, Minister of Primary Industries, opened the conference by “acknowledging the B3 partnership as a great model for working together on research”. He emphasized that for the last ten years, B3 has been an important part of the science network that supports “continuous improvement in the biosecurity system”, and that “B3 is helping develop a generation of scientists who are thinking beyond the management of current pest problems”. Importantly, Guy highlighted B3’s demonstrated capacity to link scientists with the Ministry for Primary Industry’s policy and operational thinkers in worthwhile ways “to ensure cross-pollination of knowledge and understanding which will improve New Zealand’s biosecurity system”.

One of the two keynote speakers for the conference was Dr Tracy Leskey from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). She spoke about the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), which is not yet present in New Zealand but which could be far more damaging to New Zealand’s horticulture industry than fruit fly. Both Bill Dyck of the Forest Owners Association (FOA) and Dr Mike Butcher of Pipfruit NZ Inc commented on the usefulness of this presentation in alerting their industries to potential biosecurity risks. Butcher said, “It was a great eye-opener to many who have been unaware of the devastation this organism can bring across many production sectors in New Zealand and the lack of current effective tools to address it.”

The second keynote speaker was Dr Suzy Perry from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Queensland.  She spoke on a new disease, myrtle rust (Puccinia psidii), which has been spreading rapidly around the world including Australia. There is considerable concern about the likely arrival, establishment and impact of myrtle rust on introduced and indigenous plant species in the Myrtaceae family in New Zealand.

Conference presentations covered highlights from B3 research – spanning risk assessment, pathway risk management, diagnostics, surveillance and eradication. These talks generally showed systematic improvements in the readiness and response capability of New Zealand’s biosecurity system. Post-graduate students were also invited to present recent research results, both because of the significance and value of this research and to highlight the new skills being developed to strengthen the future of the B3 collaboration.

Both Dyck and Butcher commented on the high quality of many of the post-graduate students’ presentations, which could potentially attract industry support to help understand what tools could be used in readiness and response situations in New Zealand. For example, Hamish Patrick from the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University is developing some new molecular tests to distinguish the many sub-species of fruit fly (Bactrocera spp.), some of which are much more damaging than others.

Overall, Butcher commented that the conference provided “a platform for researchers and regulators to understand that production sectors are stakeholders in the biosecurity area and that opportunities exist under the new Government Industry Agreement (GIA) environment [where government and industry will collaborate and share costs for biosecurity readiness and response] to use research outcomes for biosecurity readiness and post border biosecurity response events”.

Asela Atapattu, Applications Manager for New Organisms at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed. “The inaugural B3 conference was a great opportunity to network, and build connections between government and researchers. A particular highlight was the opportunity to hear about incursion responses from different angles, building a picture of all the different parties involved and how they worked together. The conference highlighted the quality of science that has been produced under the auspices of B3, and I look forward to seeing more excellent work from the B3 collaboration in the future.”

Dr David Teulon (B3 Director) says that based on the feedback he received, “The conference was a huge success and fulfilled its main aim of highlighting the outcomes and value for New Zealand’s plant border biosecurity system achieved through B3’s research projects.”