The Australian banana industry’s peak body is calling for immediate government assistance after a second Queensland plantation was infected by the deadly soil-borne Panama TR4 disease.
A banana farm in far north Queensland recently had 16,000 banana plants destroyed by authorities to prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the state’s $600 million industry.
The second detection was made on a farm near Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands, one of North Queensland’s major banana growing regions.
Mareeba is about 180 kilometres by road from the site of the first detection.
The Australian Banana Growers’ Council Chairman Doug Phillips and CEO Jim Pekin met with the Queensland Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne and officials from Biosecurity Queensland on Friday, requesting immediate action be taken to support and protect the North Queensland banana industry.
“Confirmation of a second case of TR4 is extremely difficult news for our industry, and devastating news for the grower whose farm is affected,” said Phillips.
“However, if there are TR4 infections on banana farms we need to know about them and we must continue to make every effort to locate and contain all cases of this plant disease.
“We need to have the banana industry fully prepared to contain this disease and to assist growers with affected properties.”
Among the measures the ABGC is calling for is a protocol, approved by Biosecurity Queensland, that sets out “minimum biosecurity standards” for infected farms to follow, and government funding for infected farms to help them pay for destroying the infected plants and fencing infected farms.
Banana production and supply will continue as usual from Queensland farms with only two of 280 farms affected.
The fungal plant disease doesn’t affect humans and only attacks the root system of the plant not the fruit – however all bananas being distributed to supermarkets come from healthy plants.
The need for the immediate assistance follows the history TR4 in Australia. In the 1990s the same strain destroyed the Northern Territory’s entire banana industry.
And for retailers such as Harris Farm, which gets 98% of its bananas from Queensland, the disease poses a hug risk to its supply chain.
While the loss of two plantations won’t impact national banana prices, production or supply, there is mounting anxiety that disease has already spread.
Adverse weather conditions or animals may have already spread the soil, in which case it would be 5-to-8 months before the plants show any symptoms.
Despite this Carlo Ceravolo, head buyer of fresh fruit and vegetables for Harris Farm said Australians should not see the “disease” as a stigma.
“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 blasé about the issue before but now they can protect industry moving forward,” he told Business Insider.
“If Australians stop buying Queensland products it will impact the farmers and their livelihood.” Read more from some of Australia’s leading supermarkets here.
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