Pierce’s disease the top threat to Australian agriculture

A recent list released by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources named Xylella fastidiosa as the number one threat to Australia’s agricultural sectors – including the grape and wine community.

Xylella fastidiosa is the organism responsible for Pierce’s disease and is an invasive bacterial plant pathogen that leads to the death of grapevines. It has a wide host range and infects a large number of other commercial and ornamental plant species.

Pierce’s disease is not present in Australia, however, it is spreading around the world, with recent detections in France and Italy. The bacteria are spread by insect vectors, like the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a large leaf hopper.

An incursion of Pierce’s disease in Australia would significantly affect the grape and wine community, therefore it is critical that research and development (R&D) supports the sector as it participates in biosecurity import and surveillance measures to reduce the likelihood that it is introduced.

Through its R&D investment, Wine Australia is aiming to provide the sector with greater preparedness for different exotic pest incursions through the national endorsement of diagnostic protocols identified in the sector’s biosecurity plan.

A diagnostic protocol supports surveillance programs across Australia and helps to develop control plans should a plant pest be detected.

Wine Australia has recently funded research to update the wine sector’s diagnostic protocol for Pierce’s disease and this is currently with Plant Health Australia for approval. We hope this will be available to the Australian grape and wine community this year.

At the release of Australia’s Top 40 national priority plant pests list, Australian Chief Plant Protection officer Dr Kim Ritman said that while the biosecurity work we do in Australia – off-shore, at our borders and on-shore – helps manage the risk, support from the public is crucial in making sure these pests never get here.

‘By not bringing plants or seeds into Australia through the airport or mail and keeping an eye out and reporting any unusual pest or disease symptoms, we can work together to safeguard Australia’s industries and unique environment.’

Identifying, securing and reporting suspected incidences of Pierce’s disease are important to Australian agriculture. More information can be found on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.

What should I look out for?

The symptoms of Pierce’s disease can often be confused with water stress or the presence of other diseases and include:

  • Leaf discolouration/scorching
  • Browning and loss of leaves
  • Stunting of young shoots
  • Dieback and eventual death of affected plants.

For more information, refer to Plant Health Australia’s factsheet.

What can we do?

  • Manage water stress
  • Follow Australia’s strict quarantine measures for any imported plant material
  • Conduct regular surveillance within vineyards and nurseries for known symptoms or irregularities
  • Report any suspicious symptoms to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881, or if you have imported a suspected plant contact the See.Secure.Report Hotline on 1800 798 636.

In June this year, representatives from the Australian grape and wine community participated in Plant Health Australia’s National Xylella Preparedness Workshop to find solutions to some of the current gaps in Australia’s preparedness. More information about the workshop is available on the Plant Health Australia website.


Image credit: Department of Agriculture and Water Resources