Rust could cost $1.4b

By Country News

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimates a nation-wide outbreak of the wheat rust strain Ug99 could cost Australia up to $1.4billion across 10 years.

ABARES executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds said the results of a report released last week highlighted the importance of keeping Australia’s $6billion wheat industry free of the invasive wheat disease.

‘‘The Ug99 strain is not present in Australia, but poses a major risk to the wheat industry in terms of revenue losses and increased production costs should it arrive in the country,’’ Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

‘‘It is a highly virulent strain of wheat stem rust that has overcome 17 of 34 stem rust resistance genes found in wheat.’’

The report provides a comparison of the costs to successful versus unsuccessful prevention and on-farm biosecurity practices.

‘‘It estimates the economic impact over 10 years of three disease spread scenarios ranging from $574million for a spread to wheat-growing areas in the western region, to $1.4billion for a spread which covers all wheat-growing areas in Australia,’’ Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

‘‘Disruptions to Australian wheat exports may also result if Ug99-sensitive markets were to ban imports of Australian wheat.

‘‘Eradication of Ug99 would likely only be technically feasible if the rust is detected while still contained within a very small area with a light spore load, so it is crucial we take measures to keep Ug99 from entering the country in the first place.’’

The most recent and severe outbreak of wheat rust in Australia was the 1973 epidemic which was estimated to have cost the wheat industry between $200million and $300million, at the time — equivalent to $1.8billion to $2.7billion in 2014-15 dollars.