Choc tops for Panama plan

A visit to a Singapore chocolate factory has helped Australia’s largest banana farming operation to quickly implement a “traffic light” biosecurity system on their farms and share the information with other growers.
Barrie MacKay and Mark Smith from Tully’s Mackay Estates were at a cocoa conference in Singapore in March when they saw the system of red, green and yellow zones in operation at a chocolate factory.

At the same time, back in the Tully Valley, where Mackay Estates has five farms, news was breaking of the first suspected case of Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4) in a major Australian banana growing region.

Mackay Estates’ Gavin MacKay said news of the zonal system being used for cocoa and chocolates in Singapore took on a new urgency back in Tully.

“We were immediately able to use the information and implement it on our farms,” Mr MacKay said.

“It’s an excellent system and a great guideline for thinking about how to make sure your farming and packing areas stay ‘clean’ and separated from the areas where vehicles, equipment and people enter and leave the farm.

“It also goes to show the value of networking – who would have thought you’d find a good idea on managing banana farm biosecurity from a chocolate factory in Singapore?”

The system works by identifying each area on the farm as either a red, green or yellow zone.

The red zone is a “dirty” zone where trucks and visitors enter for essential services such as deliveries and fruit pick ups. It includes areas such as the loading
dock, car park and set down and pick up area for farm workers.

No vehicles or equipment move beyond the red zone into the clean yellow and green zones. All staff and visitors enter these zones after using footbaths and then changing their street footwear for colour-coded gumboots.

The separate sets of footwear for wearing home and for different parts of the farm are a key part of the system. Field workers have up to three pairs of boots, each pair being left in one of the zones to avoid walking soil across the zones.

“There are home boots, boots they wear at smoko and boots they wear in the field,” Mr MacKay said.

“Everyone in the packing shed wears white gumboots and everyone in the field will have black ones.

“That way it’s easy to see if people have forgotten to change their boots if they’ve moved between the different areas.”

The boots all stay on the farm in their designated locations with workers wearing their own footwear to and from the farm.

Mr MacKay said the system had brought an immediate lift in biosecurity measures to their farms.

“Like everyone else, we had a little bit of biosecurity in place already but we never really had the mandate to implement everything.

“The system is still evolving – we’re still developing it every day I guess as new issues arise that hadn’t previously been accounted for.”

The farms have set up protocols for delivering farm and packing shed consumables, managing logistics to consolidate deliveries where possible. The new processes are becoming more streamlined as everyone adapts.

“It doesn’t add a lot of time once everyone gets used to it,” Mr MacKay said.

“It’s a matter of getting in the habit.” Staff in the packing shed have been keen to adopt the new procedures.

“They know why they’re doing it and we’ve had no problems at all. They’re actually quite keen.

“Initially, we had some people get a bit mixed up about things but other people are there to help them right away. And with the different coloured gumboots it makes it pretty obvious if someone’s forgotten to change footwear.”

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