WHEAT imports may be necessary to meet a shortfall in Australian production, but biosecurity measures must be non-negotiable according to the chairman of the NSW Durum Growers Association.
Ross Durham, who farms at Mullaley, on the Liverpool Plains in NSW, said he understood the situation was difficult for domestic grain users, such as the Manildra Group, which has won permission to import high protein Canadian grain with massive drought induced shortages of grain.
However, Mr Durham said the industry must not fall into the trap of any practices that could lead to potential biosecurity risks as part of the import process.
In particular, he questioned whether whole grain should be allowed to be moved untreated the 70 kilometres from Port Kembla to Nowra.
As the grain does not enter a grain producing region, it is allowed to be moved directly to Nowra as part of the Manildra Group's import permit conditions.
Mr Durham said even this relatively short distance was too far in his opinion.
"The grain either needs to be processed or denaturalised near the port to minimise the chance of a breach of the supply chain," Mr Durham said.
Denaturalisation is a sticky topic for those importing grain.
The cost per tonne of a gamma radiation treatment to devitalise the grain, meaning it is not viable to grow, and to ensure there are no surviving disease pathogens, is said to be close to the current value of a tonne of wheat, making it cost prohibitive for those looking to bring in replacement grain.
There is also work on treating the grain with steam, which would be cheaper, but this technology is yet to be fully ratified by experts and also is not strong against pathogens.
The capacity of the equipment required to devitalise grain in Australia would also be a problem.
The major demand for sterile grain in the past has come from producers of mouse bait but it is unknown whether the operators could step up to process the thousands of tonnes that will be imported.
Mr Durham said while it may be costly, it was a case of not jeopardising the grains industry for the sake of a few shipments of wheat.
"We've heard that we shouldn't be risking the suppliers future for a couple of shipments of wheat to keep them going and that is fine, but on the other side they need to ensure that just because they didn't want to pay a little extra that a serious disease or weed gets in here."
"You have a look at grain trucks and where they've been and the trail of cockatoos and galahs will tell you they are not sealed tight and it is the same thing with train wagons.
"The grain needs to be 100pc safe, whether that is processed or treated before it enters an agricultural region of any description, because you can't put the genie back in the bottle.
"One of our greatest natural advantages is that little barrier that is the ocean around us and we don't want that thrown away just because the cost of keeping up grain hygiene doesn't suit the end users."
Another farmer from Mr Durham's local area, Xavier Martin, agreed, saying he felt that grain should not be allowed out of metropolitan areas untreated or unprocessed.
"The risks are just too great, I think the problems we are seeing in this part of the world, even from grain brought in from other parts of Australia in terms of new weeds is enormous, let alone the damaging pests and pathogens from overseas," Mr Martin said.
He also questioned the true state of supply of high protein wheat, which the Manildra Group has said has been too low to keep its Nowra facility running.
"Speaking with people and I would say there are still supplies of hard (high protein) wheat right across the NSW wheatbelt, prices for this particular grade have been struggling as far back as September last year and there have been plenty who felt there had to be a better price on offer down the track and have held on, so I wouldn't think it is a situation where there is no high protein wheat about at all."