It's now a waiting game for the Queensland banana industry after deadly disease strikes the crop

Infected banana plants. Source: Queensland Dept of Agriculture

Sixteen thousand banana plants in far north Queensland will be destroyed after being infected with the deadly Panama disease.

But 10 hectares of plants is a small sacrifice to save the 12,000 hectares of banana plantation in Queensland, worth $600 million, according to Rhyll Cronin, of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council.

The disease wiped out the Northern Territory banana industry in the 1990s.

“It’s just one farm, and it is now contained. Farmers are just continuing as normal,” she said.

The cull will not impact national banana prices, production or supply, Cronin said.

“Banana prices fluctuate for a number of reasons, the influence of Panama disease is not one of those.”

If the disease has spread, it will take 5-to-8 months for plants to show any symptoms.

“There will be continued surveillance for many months. If the plants are stressed, say from dryer conditions, then they might become more susceptible to the disease.”

The inside of an infected plant. Photo: Scot Nelson.

“Right now it’s the wet season and so the plants are not stressed and there isn’t a lack of water. It’s been under surveillance for a month, and overall 10 hectares is not significant.”

“If prices do go up it would be due to lower production at start of year. Currently Queensland is producing 400,000 13kg cartons a week. It’s all normal ebbs and flows, everybody is still harvesting,” she said.

Woolworths told a similar story from a retail perspective.

“At this point we have seen no price increase in Queensland and NSW [stores] due to Panama disease,” a spokesperson told Business Insider.

“Banana prices move about as they come on and off promotion at this time of year.

“Prices have risen very slightly in Queensland and New South Wales in recent weeks as demand has increased and due to the effects of some bad weather in Queensland. This is fairly normal for this time of year but the increases have been minor.”

Other retailers pointed out that the disease puts more at risk than just the prices.

Harris Farm, which gets 98% of its banana from Queensland, said it was concerned the label “disease” will put a stigma on the fruit.

“It’s a minor outbreak that they have got on to quite early, and prevented any further spread,” said Carlo Ceravolo, head buyer of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“People need to know that there is no harm to be done to any person if they eat the fruit of an infected tree – it only effects productivity and production.

“I only see positives out of this. By raising awareness early, they have help widespread prevention. The Queensland banana industry was possibly a little bit blase about the issue before but now they can protect industry moving forward.

“If Australians stop buying Queensland products it will impact the farmers and their livelihood.”

Now, it’s a waiting game for Queensland banana farmers.

The infected area will be fenced off, the fruit with be bagged and the plants will be given two injections – an insecticide to kill insects that are in ground under the plants, and a herbicide to kill the tree. It will essentially become a ghost crop.

“It’s too risky to plant anything else there,” said Cronin. “The soil has the potential to spread the disease to other plants.”

The determining factors are the weather, and potential soil run off, and animals, such as feral pigs, which have been in the area and transferred soil by foot.

Now read: 16,000 banana plants will be destroyed to stop a disease ruining the industry in Australia.

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