THE GENERAL public, post COVID-19, is much more aware of the importance of a solid national biosecurity policy than it was two years ago.
However, there is much more to the national strategy than just stopping diseases that impact humans in.
A large part of Australia's biosecurity budget goes on protecting the nation's agricultural sector.
Australian food is in high demand globally because of our status as a clean and green producer.
As an island continent, we are free from many damaging diseases and pests that decimate crops elsewhere - and the biosecurity department is doing its best to keep it that way.
Richard Keane, assistant secretary analytics and innovation branch at the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, said the government was rolling out a host of novel new projects as part of its Biosecurity Innovation Program to ensure exotic pests and diseases are kept out.
"There are a few things happening that are really exciting, incorporating new technology to keep our country safe," Mr Keane said.
One such project is designed to stop the spread of brown marmorated stink bugs.
While for many the bug is just a vaguely amusingly named novelty, BMSB can be a serious nuisance.
Capable of building up in huge numbers, the bugs eat a range of species as well as emitting an offensive odour.
The bugs are very difficult to differentiate from less damaging native stink bug species.
DAWE has partnered with CSIRO to look to create a species identification app to help people identify BSMB in the field.
The idea is that artificial intelligence (AI) and a mobile phone application will be used to definitively ID the bug.
The app uses Microsoft's image classification model to provide fast, accurate recognition of 9 stink bug species, including BMSB, 3 other exotic pests and 5 Australian native species that resemble exotic pests.
Mr Keane said the AI used for the app was trained using more than 200 stink bug specimens held in the Australian National Insect Collection and an additional 500 specimens loaned from other collections.
The CSIRO identified each specimen and produced a library of more than 10,000 high-resolution training images.
When tested, the app was able to differentiate stink bug species and to identify BMSB correctly.
Most misidentifications involved 2 Australian native species that look very similar.
In a real-world situation, identifications are likely to be highly accurate as the app provides illustrated species profiles for users to cross-check and correct any potential identification errors.
Mr Keane was also effusive about RingIR, an Australian start-up, which has developed a Multi-Hazard Detector 2000 (MHD2000), which is a non-destructive, portable vapour and aerosol chemical detection system, which can be used to detect grain fumigants and may have an application in detecting 'hitch-hiker' pests such as BMSB and Khapra beetle.
RingIR technology can detect, identify, and quantify any gas or fumigant down to parts-per-billion.
"The beauty here is that it will enable users to make critical decisions in real time," Mr Keane said.
"The system requires no operator handling of the sample, no specialist training and no consumables," he said.
This project is due to be completed by 30 June 2022.
"Anything we can do to stop pests getting in through sea cargo is going to be a big help," Mr Keane said.
He said interested members of the public could check out the range of projects underway at https://www.biosecurity.gov.au/
Start the day with all the big news in agriculture! Sign up below to receive our daily Farmonline newsletter.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.