Protecting Australian coffee’s borders

Australian Subtropical Coffee Association’s Rebecca Zentveld on how to keep Australia’s coffee growing industry pest and disease free.

Thanks to Australia’s geographical isolation, it is the only coffee-producing nation in the world that is free of coffee leaf rust and the coffee berry borer pest.

It’s also thanks to Australia’s rust-resistant cultivars that Australian coffee growers enjoy the unique position of being able to grow naturally spray-free coffee in a cooler, subtropical climate. 

However, with such isolation comes a degree of vulnerability, and we are always at risk of introduced pests and diseases. 

Rebecca Zentveld is an Australian coffee specialist, Owner of Zentveld’s Coffee Roastery and Plantation, and President of the Australian Subtropical Coffee Association.

If coffee pests such as the berry borer or leaf rust were to arrive on our plantations, the Australian coffee growing industry could be wiped out. 

Farmers can only do so much to ensure that Australia’s coffee crops remain free of pests and disease. We also rely on the people visiting and working with international origins to be on the lookout, such as baristas and roasters, the ones who could accidentally introduce these pests to the country.

To avoid introducing pests and diseases to Australia, be aware of the following risks and rules. 

  • When returning from visiting origin plantations, you could inadvertently bring back coffee leaf rust spores on your clothes and shoes. Spores aren’t visible, but cling easily to clothing and textured material. The berry borer beetle can easily get caught up in folded clothing, or in a backpack or camera bag. Shake your clothes out thoroughly for any little critters.
  • Never bring home hessian or jute coffee bags from origin. Also avoid bringing back small samples of green bean. If you do bring back small samples, treat them like the biosecurity hazard that they are and keep them isolated. Leave hessian bags at your roastery, and above all else, do not place anywhere near a coffee tree — even if in a garden or a pot. Leaf rust spores can last for weeks on hessian bags, and become active under the right conditions. 
  • Only use green beans for roasting. Do not germinate green beans yourself, or contract a local nursery to do so. This is illegal because the biosecurity risk is immense. The biosecurity protocols for importing coffee for roasting do not cover the purposes of growing coffee, which is far more stringent. Australia’s legitimate, law abiding coffee importing companies know and strictly communicate that any green bean they sell is for the purposes of roasting, not growing.

Back on home soil, there are, however, a few simple steps you can take to ensure Australia’s coffee production remains fruitful.

  • At the roaster: Keep hessian bags separate from everything else and dispose of hessian bags responsibly. Thoughtfully repurposing for art or craft work is ideal.
  • When returning from origin: At international arrivals, do the right thing and declare your coffee farm visit to the quarantine officers and get your shoes sprayed by the biosecurity officer. It only takes a few minutes. Also, wash all clothes, boots, jackets, and bags soon after returning home. 
  • When visiting an Australian coffee plantation: Either soon after returning from origin or after being in your roastery, tell the plantation staff where you have been and be sure not to have the same bags, boots or clothes.

If we all take biosecurity seriously, we can help prevent any breakout or transference of the dreaded coffee pests and diseases, and Australia’s coffee growing industry can bloom without fearing the future. 

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