Monday, September 23, 2019

Importing Iris into Australia

By Mel Schiller

Bailey and I at Smokin Heights are in the process of going through what is considered the best protocol and procedures of importing bearded iris to Australia from the United States.

As we type this, we have approximately 90 rhizomes coming into an Australian Quarantine Facility in Melbourne from the United States Of America.

It is an extremely lengthy and costly exercise. Here is a basic overview:

Before we even decide on what rhizomes we would like to import into Australia we need to apply for a permit to import conditionally non-prohibited good: plant and plant products, essentially Iris Spp.

To obtain the permit is probably the easiest step in the process!

Once we know that we have obtained the permit, we then look at which rhizomes we would like to import. Bailey and I agree to disagree on this process, bearing in mind the purchase price, the shipping, the phytosanitary certificate and the forever changing currency!
Our permit has a 12 month use on it. We use the permit once in a year. It is best to have the irises come into Australia at the beginning of spring after the USA bloom time to slowly acclimatize to our heat and weather conditions.

Before being mailed to Australia, the rhizomes are dug, labelled, washed and trimmed then sprayed to remove pests and eggs. A health inspector's visit is organized to issue a phytosanitary certificate to approve of the mailing of the iris rhizomes into Australia. This certificate approves the treatment of the rhizomes being shipped to a foreign country and says that all permit conditions have been met.

The rhizomes are inspected upon arrival into Australia by Biosecurity and held in customs. This process takes a long time. All imported goods must be free from contamination including no dirt, no insects, no living creatures in or on the rhizomes and packaging. The packaging must meet Australian regulations. The package and rhizomes must be appropriately labelled and packaged in accordance with the import permit conditions.  If these conditions are not met, the rhizomes may face destruction, export, or even forfeited to the Commonwealth at the importer’s expense.

Once the rhizome pass this stage, they are then fumigated by a company. The fumigation is the worst stage for the iris. Some rhizomes can handle the process; some do not. The rhizomes are fumigated with Methyl Bromide 32g/m3 for 3 hours at 21 degrees Celsius, at the cost to the importer.

Once this process is completed the rhizomes are taken privately to a Quarantine post entry facility where they can remain for a minimum of 3 months, or until sufficient new growth has occurred to enable them to be screened for any disease symptoms.  The facility schedule of fees are per pot. The rhizomes are screened for any symptoms twice or three times over the 3 month period at the cost to the importer. The rhizomes are not classed as single items. They are classed as the whole shipment. The shipment of rhizome have to be free from disease and be cleared by a biosecurity officer before they can be released. Fees need to be paid to the Quarantine facility and Biosecurity before the are released.

Rhizome collected from Quarantine
Once we have been notified that the rhizomes have passed the inspections and have been released, we arrange for transportation from Melbourne to our home in South Australia.

Australia has extremely strict laws on importing goods and plants. We have a very unique environment and agriculture industries and want to minimize the risk of pests and diseases entering into the country.

On top of that, there are also strict laws moving plants foods and animals from state to state. We cherish our uniqueness and don’t want to damage it for future generations. Plant pests and diseases can significantly damage Australia’s productive plant industries. They reduce yields, lower the quality of food, increase production costs, and make it difficult to sell our produce in international markets.
Plant pests and diseases may also be a huge threat to our natural environment: native forests, grasslands, and shrub lands.
Australia does not need the iris borer caterpillar (Macronoctua onusta), which are the most destructive insect pests of iris.
  • The caterpillars chew holes into the leaves and tunnel all the way into the rhizome.
  • The tips of iris leaves turn brown and seem to be dying, but the entire plant dies very rarely.
  • Iris borers cause severe damage to irises by feeding on the rhizome.
  • Management of iris borers is difficult, but damage caused by them can be reduced.
  • Pesticides or natural enemies of iris borers may be used to control these insects.
Again, Australia is lucky to be free of many damaging pests prevalent elsewhere in the world. 
Fewer pest and disease problems mean lower production costs. Areas where rigorous biosecurity can deliver “pest freedom” give Australian producers an enormous advantage in international markets and allow us to have safer and cheaper locally produced food.
Please do not ship plants to Australia without following our strict guidelines. For those Australians who bring plants in without the proper paperwork and procedures, well I know what I would like to say: you're a bloody idiot!

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