Banana bug fears spread
Growers brace as test points to new ordeal
THE banana industry is bracing for another long wait to hear conclusively if the potentially crop- destroying Panama disease has struck again in the Tully River Valley.
The Australian Banana Growers Council says it will be at least another three weeks before a conclusive test result of the latest suspicious samples is confirmed.
Growers fear the worst. For many it is a case of if it looks like Panama disease, it probably is Panama disease.
It’s been two years since the soil- borne, fungal disease, also known as Panama Tropical Race 4, was first found on a farm just a few kilometres from where the latest suspect samples were discovered.
Growers were hoping that measures they had taken in the form of the fencing of farms to stop human, mechanised and even animal trespass might have kept the fungus at bay.
Stringent protocols involving the chemical washing of machinery and footwear at farm gates were also put in place as part of the overall campaign to stop the spread of Panama disease.
Now, the hopes that these measures might have served as a barrier to stop the fungus infecting soils throughout the rich farmlands of the Tully Valley are all but shattered.
The ABGC is urging growers to ramp up their on- farm biosecurity protocols even further after a first positive test for the disease last week.
“The initial molecular test has come back positive. It will be four to six weeks before the definitive test results are known,” ABGC chairman Stephen Lowe said. “Nonetheless, growers need to protect their farms as this TR4 risk is not going away.”
A tree which initially aroused suspicion on the farm owned by the Mackay family at Tully looked like it was affected by Panama disease.
It was enough to trigger the latest outbreak scare that has the $ 900 million industry quaking in its boots.
Like most growers, David Singh, who farms in the Kennedy Valley between Cardwell and Tully, says it is matter of seeing what happens. If it is a worst- case scenario, the banana industry will have to adapt to survive. It could mean the cultivation of new varieties.
Mr Singh has no great fear of change, but like his counterparts he does have concerns about the consequences change might bring.
Farmers grow Williams Cavendish bananas because they are highly productive in terms of volume.
Mr Singh said what the industry did not know was if the public would accept different tasting bananas if it punted Williams Cavendish in favour of other varieties.
There is also the fact that changing to different varieties would almost certainly mean a fall in production volumes.
This would spark a rise in the cost of inputs which in turn would drive up prices at the supermarket.
And if it all does go pearshaped in terms of banana production volumes and buyer resistance, what then?
The answer to that question is the one no grower wants to hear. It is that the Federal Government might allow the importation of bananas from The Philippines.
If that happens, many growers feel it could be case of ‘ good night, Irene’ for the Queensland banana industry.
Mr Singh said Panama disease was able to be managed and production quotas met in Asian countries where the disease is endemic because there is less mechanisation.
He said Australian farms were highly mechanised and that the constant movement of machinery was the major threat in terms of trying to control Panama’s spread.
Mr Lowe said Biosecurity Queensland took samples for diagnostic testing over the past week in a Brisbane laboratory.
“There will be no impact whatsoever on fruit sold to consumers, whether the result is confirmed as positive or not. There is also no expectation that supply will be challenged,” Mr Lowe said.
GROWERS NEED TO PROTECT THEIR FARMS AS THIS TR4 RISK IS NOT GOING AWAY AUSTRALIAN BANANA GROWERS COUNCIL CHAIRMAN STEPHEN LOWE
PRODUCTIVE: David Singh on his banana farm south of Tully.