A banana farm in far north Queensland will have 10 hectares of its bananas plants destroyed by authorities to prevent a soil-borne Panama TR4 disease from spreading to the rest of the state’s $600 million industry.
16,000 banana plants on the 160 hectares Tully property will be injected with lethal chemicals after the plantation was put under quarantine by Biosecurity Queensland earlier in the month.
The disease is the same strain that destroyed the Northern Territory’s banana industry in the 1990s, but it’s the first time it has been detected in a Queensland plantation.
The fungal plant disease doesn’t affect humans, but it attacks the root system of the plant. While the fruit is not affected, the leaves turn yellow and wilt, before the whole plant dies. All banana varieties, including the main commercial Cavendish line, are prone to it.
After the initial detection chief biosecurity officer Dr Jim Thompson told the ABC: “If the disease were to become widespread across Queensland’s major banana growing districts, it would have serious consequences for the industry.”
Once all the plants on the property have been killed the area will be fenced off to ensure that that area is not used for banana farming again.
“It will be left as it is for a period of time, until further decisions can be made on future treatment of that area,” said Thompson.
Nearby grower Costa Bananas, Australia’s largest horticultural producer with a turnover of $900 million a year, has called for industry-wide restrictions to be made on the movement of machinery, plants and people involved.
Costa, which makes up 10 to 15% of Australia’s production, has since applied tight biosecurity to its 750 acre banana plantation in Tully.
There were also concerns that Cyclone Nathan, which hit the top end of Australia just over a fortnight ago, would potentially spread the banana disease.
Chair of the Australian Banana Growers Council Doug Phillips said rain from the cyclone may wash potentially contaminated soil into other plantations.
“The reality is, there are things that we can control or have influence over and there’s things that we can’t.
“And high rainfall events are something that are very difficult to really have any solution to.”
This is the second time in a matter of years that Queensland banana farmers have been in trouble.
In February 2011, Cyclone Yasi and the resulting floods across the east coast devastated food-producing regions across Queensland.
Farmers had their plantations damaged and harvests were disrupted, resulting in banana prices almost doubling to $15 per kilogram.
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