Cotton biosecurity

With the commencement of the NSW Biosecurity Act 2015, we say goodbye to a number of previously existing acts that have governed NSW producers and their practices for decades. Regulations have also been reviewed and new ones made to support the Act.

There are more than 1200 cotton farms in Australia and roughly half of these are in NSW. The Australian cotton crop is worth approximately $2 billion annually, underpinning the viability of 152 rural communities. Good production practices are important to protect the industry from pests, diseases and weeds both endemic and exotic.

The new biosecurity framework will help safeguard our economy, environment and community from biosecurity risks.

Prohibited matter

Prohibited matter is listed in Schedule 2 to the Act and includes matter that could have significant adverse consequences to the economy, environment or community. A number of important pests, diseases and weeds across horticultural industries are listed as prohibited matter. Schedule 2 to the Act should be consulted for up‑to‑date prohibited matter listings.

It is an offence under the Act to deal with prohibited matter. Presence, or suspected presence, of prohibited matter in NSW must be reported to NSW DPI immediately.

General biosecurity duty

The general biosecurity duty supports the principle of shared responsibility. It means everyone should be doing what is reasonable for them to do to prevent, eliminate or minimise biosecurity risks.

As a key stakeholder in the NSW cotton industry you have a responsibility for protecting your industry from biosecurity risks you may come across in your day to day activities.

As the general biosecurity duty is outcome focused and not a prescriptive regulation, growers have greater flexibility in determining the management arrangements that best suit their operation.

‘Discharging’ your general biosecurity duty generally provides that your production practices contribute to the protection of the industry as opposed to exposing it to risk. If you are undertaking practices that directly expose the industry to biosecurity risks there can be implications under the general biosecurity duty. To protect yourself and your industry, NSW DPI encourages good biosecurity practices in line with the cotton industry myBMP biosecurity module guidelines.

The following scenarios provide some guidance as to how the general biosecurity duty may apply in biosecurity risk situations you may come across.

Suggestions made here can be incorporated into a personalised farm biosecurity plan to protect your property and business.

Scenario 1: Detection of an unusual symptom or pest

An unusual symptom or pest could potentially be a new threat not previously faced by the industry or region and could be a potential biosecurity risk.

You can make an effort to protect your industry and fulfil your general biosecurity duty by seeking to identify the suspect pest or disease and taking precautionary steps to avoid spread until identification is confirmed:

  • Isolate the plants or area affected and restrict movement in or around the area to essential personnel only
  • Make property employees aware of the contaminated area. Request they avoid the area and look out for similar signs or symptoms elsewhere on the property
  • Do not move the affected plants or parts of the plants unless absolutely necessary

If identification confirms a pest or disease of concern the NSW DPI will advise you on how to proceed and any restrictions that may apply.

Scenario 2: Field days on local farms

There is a biosecurity risk associated with field day attendees introducing new pests, diseases or weeds to the host property. The host property itself is also a biosecurity risk for attendees as there may be pests, diseases or weeds already present that aren’t present on their own property.

You can make an effort to protect yourself and your industry from risk and fulfil your general biosecurity duty by observing ‘Come clean, go clean’ principles:

  • Make sure any vehicles, equipment and/or clothing brought along to the field day are free of plant material and soil and preferably disinfected where possible
  • Adhere to any biosecurity practices in place on the host property
  • While navigating the property avoid entering key production areas unnecessarily and stick to formed paths/roadways where possible
  • On leaving the field day, be aware of risk material you might be taking with you (eg soil, plant material, pests, disease particles, weed seeds on vehicles/equipment/clothing). All material taken with you should be assessed for risk and preferably cleaned before re-entering another production area.

Scenario 3: Picking contractors

There is a biosecurity risk associated with contractors introducing new pests, diseases or weeds to the property from other regions.

The general biosecurity duty applies to contractors who are reasonably expected to know of the risk they represent. Growers who ensure their contractors are aware of biosecurity risks and give guidance as to how to prevent, eliminate or minimise that risk impart on them the general biosecurity duty.

Potential guidelines to give the contractor to help them protect the cotton industry from biosecurity risk and fulfil the general biosecurity duty include similar ‘Come clean, go clean’ principles as described in Scenario 2. Additionally you could also:

  • Provide and insist use of wash down facilities to wash vehicles, machinery and equipment on entering and exiting the property
  • Encourage reporting of any unusual pest, symptom or weed presence observed on the property to the property manager

Scenario 4: Consultants

Consultants who move from property to property within a region are a risk for spreading pests, diseases and weeds.

As a consultant, you can make an effort to protect yourself and the industry from biosecurity risk and fulfil your general biosecurity duty by:

  • Cleaning vehicles, machinery, equipment and/or clothing between properties
  • If an area of the region is known to have a particular pest, disease or weed issue, where possible leave that area until last
  • Adhere to any biosecurity practices in place on visited properties
  • Depending on the type of consultancy, while navigating properties try to avoid entering production areas if it isn’t necessary. Stick to formed paths/roadways where possible
  • Use property provided vehicles to move around the property if available
  • If unusual pest, symptom or weed presence is observed but is not within the knowledgeable scope of the consultant to assess, notify the property manager
  • If available, use on-farm wash down facilities to wash vehicles, machinery and/or equipment before exiting the property. If wash down is not possible on the property vehicles, machinery and/or equipment should be cleaned elsewhere before entering the property.

Scenario 5: Properties infested with weeds, pests, or disease

In order for the general biosecurity duty to apply in this scenario the pest, disease or weed must pose a biosecurity risk to the region, or part of the region. General management of widespread pests, diseases and weeds do not fall under the general biosecurity duty. Examples of situations where the general biosecurity duty may apply include:

  • The pest, disease or weed is not widespread and is restricted to a specific property or area
  • The pest, disease or weed is being managed under a regional management program
  • The pest, disease or weed is an unknown or new species not previously encountered

If such a situation occurs the grower is expected to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure spread of the pest, disease or weed is prevented, eliminated or minimised.

Further measures

It is important to remember though, the Act is underpinned by regulations that require specific action in relation to pests, diseases, weeds and contaminants – these may not necessarily be directly linked to cotton.

For example, there are requirements to notify the presence of certain weeds and, some machinery and equipment cannot be imported from Queensland unless certain conditions are met to remove the risk of parthenium weed.

You should familarise yourself with the Regulation to ensure you are compliant. More information can be found on the NSW DPI webpage or our weeds fact sheet.


If you suspect an unusual pest or symptom of being prohibited matter or an emergency plant pest:

  • Call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881
  • Take photos, not samples, to minimise the risk of spreading the pest or disease
  • Email clear photos with a brief explanation and contact details to

More information

Find out more about cotton biosecurity in Queensland