Further to the case study in our June 2017 e-news showing the response of Howe Farms to the 2015 incursion of Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4), another outbreak has been confirmed.

A new case of the devastating soil-borne Panama TR4 was confirmed in late July on the 1,000 hectare banana property of Australia’s largest grower, Mackays, in Tully. The grower self-reported the outbreak.

This area in far north Queensland is where more than 80% of Australia’s bananas are grown. Tully was at the epi-centre of the major Panama TR4 outbreak in 2015. The disease cannot be eradicated and growers in the area have been preparing for further spread since the initial outbreak.

The mainstay of Australia’s banana industry is a single variety called Cavendish, which is highly susceptible to Panama TR4. About 95% of all bananas sold in Australia are this variety. The disease does not affect the fruit but kills the banana plants.

Outbreaks such as this are a continued wake-up call to growers to assess their risk of an incursion and to put plans in place to diversify their varietal mix. Some growers have started planting varieties tolerant to heavily-infested TR4 soil and they are proving valuable, especially in light of this new TR4 detection.

Mackays have moved into containment mode, and are working closely with Biosecurity Queensland to mitigate the risk of further spread. As the fungus is spread through soil and infected plant material, farm-gate hygiene is centred around appropriate decontamination on property entry and exit of people, vehicles, machinery and equipment.

Since 2015, the banana industry’s biosecurity preparedness has improved dramatically, including surveillance and testing regimes. Scientists are also working to develop new banana varieties.

For more information about TR4 and biosecurity in the banana industry, see the article published in June 2017 from our CEO Inca Pearce who visited Howe Farms in far north Queensland.