The Victorian Strawberry Industry Certification Authority: The Story of Healthy Runners
Have you ever wondered what the Certification label on your box of strawberry runners really means? It is an important label that certifies you are receiving the healthiest runners possible. The Victorian Strawberry Industry Certification Authority Inc. (VSICA) is an independent body that inspects runners and ensures nursery growers produce them using the best protocols and practices available. VSICA only issues labels for runners if they meet rigorous standards of plant health. The Certification label also symbolises a long and successful history of delivery of healthy runners to fruit growers.
The Certification label on a box of strawberry runners
History of Healthy Runners
Back in the 1950’s, strawberry runners were infected with viruses and spread diseases to the fruit sector. The diseases dramatically reduced yields of strawberry crops and threatened the establishment and viability of the industry.
Strawberry runner crops suffering from diseases caused by viruses (stunted patch) prior to the introduction of the Victorian Strawberry Runner Certification Scheme in the 1960’s
The Victorian Department of Agriculture responded by initiating the Victorian Strawberry Runner Certification Scheme (the Certification Scheme) in the early 1960’s to provide healthy runners to strawberry fruit growers across Australia. Scientists at the Department developed the production practices within the Certification Scheme based on extensive research. Their analysis showed that Toolangi is the ideal location in Victoria to grow strawberry runners because it has the correct elevation and temperatures to ‘chill’ runners and condition them for berry production in the fruit sector. The area is also surrounded by state forest, which reduces flights of airborne pests like aphids that can carry viruses.
Lionel Stubbs (L) and Karel Kroon (R) were the leading scientists at the Victorian Department of Agriculture who established the Victorian Runner Certification Scheme in the 1960’s
Owing to its unique environment, the Victorian government declared Toolangi a ‘Plant Protection District’ for growing nursery crops. This strict measure prohibits the unauthorised entry of strawberry and other horticultural plants into the district and maintains a very high level of biosecurity in the area.
Growers at Toolangi produce Certified runners within a ‘Plant Protection District’, which assists in maintaining very high levels of biosecurity
The Victorian Strawberry Industry Certification Authority
In 1995, the Department entrusted the management and development of the Certification Scheme to the Victorian Strawberry Industry Certification Authority (VSICA). VSICA is an independent, not-for-profit organisation set up to serve the strawberry fruit and runner sectors. It is governed by a Board of Directors comprising of two fruit growers, two runner growers and an independent chairperson. VSICA is located at Toolangi in Victoria, but serves the national strawberry industry by overseeing the health of runners produced in the Certification Scheme. The runners are purchased by fruit growers from all states of Australia. VSICA has built a strong research and development capability to continually improve the science underpinning the Certification Scheme. More recently, scientists from VSICA have collaborated in research to improve control of diseases such as charcoal rot in the strawberry fruit sector.
Healthy runners growing at Toolangi
Figure 1: Flowchart of the Victorian Strawberry Runner Certification Scheme
Summary of the Scheme
The Certification Scheme involves the multiplication of runners over four generations (Figure 1), with specific procedures, practices and standards for each stage of production.
Nucleus plants (Generation 1) enter the Certification Scheme from national or overseas breeding programs following extensive testing for exotic and endemic pathogens that cause disease. VSICA maintains Nucleus plants for a range of clients in a high-security glasshouse. Each year government scientists from AgriBio independently test all Nucleus plants for viruses, fungi and bacteria.
VSICA multiplies the Nucleus plants to produce daughter plants (Generation 1) and uses these to produce Foundation stock (Generation 2) as plug plants using a hydroponic system in an insect-proof screenhouse.
Runner growers in the ‘Toolangi Plant Protection District’ multiply the Foundation stock to produce Mother stock (Generation 3) and then Certified stock (Generation 4).
Under the rules of the Certification Scheme, nursery growers must produce runners in soil treated with the fumigant methyl bromide. This is because research shows that methyl bromide is currently the only registered fumigant that can disinfest soil at Toolangi to the levels required in the Certification Scheme.
Nucleus glasshouse where VSICA maintains pathogen-tested plants of different varieties of strawberry and produces daughter nucleus stock – Generation 1
Foundation stock – Generation 2 – produced by VSICA in a hydroponic system
Foundation stock screenhouse
VSICA Tissue Culture Laboratory
Field inspections of Generation 3 and Generation 4 runners
VSICA only issues a Certification label if runners meet all the conditions of the Certification Scheme through all four generations of multiplication. This means that when fruit growers receive runners with a Certification label they can be confident they have purchased the healthiest plants possible.
For further information please contact Corina Horstra, Manager VSICA | email@example.com
Australian Strawberry Propagators Accreditation Authority (ASPAA)
ASPAA commenced formally operating in 2016 as a Limited Liability Company with the aim of providing strawberry growers with disease free planting material of good agronomic quality.
Members of the company are Propagators and the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association ((QSGA). The company is currently run by a Board comprising two Propagators, two Members of the QSGA Executive and an independent Chair. Propagator members are guided by the Australian Strawberry Propagators Accreditation Scheme Document that lays down operational guidelines for the production of strawberry plants for distribution to fruit growers. These guidelines provide the basis for an annual audit of each Propagator at the start of the Queensland planting season that ensures maintenance of the original accreditation and provides certification of plants for the coming season.
An accreditation certificate is issued after the initial audit and a certification certificate is issued annually following a successful audit. The audit may reveal issues that need fixing and this is subject to a Corrective Action Report (CAR) that gives the propagator time to fix the problem. If a major issue cannot be fixed then a portion of or all plants produced may not be certified for that season. A fruit grower client must be informed of this and agree to accept the plants that are out of standard.
The major change for ASPAA in 2019 has been the increasing interest in Plug Plant production that required a rewrite of the Accreditation Scheme document plus an update of the company constitution. A greater than usual number of enquiries have been received regarding becoming a member of ASPAA and achieving accreditation. ASPAA also has taken responsibility for organising minor use permits for pesticides (particularly fungicides) with the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) assisted by Hort Innovation.
For further information contact ASPAA Board Chair Prof. John Chapman | 0408 986 751 | firstname.lastname@example.org