Plan B’s not an option, says Shannon

Shannon Paton has already been nationally recognised for his and partner Sarah’s efforts to keep Panama race 1 off their East Palmerston farm.
Now, as the president of the Cassowary Coast Banana Growers’ Association and Biosecurity Farmer of the Year, Shannon is assisting other growers who ask for tips on keeping out Panama.

“I initially had some growers ring me up and say ‘why should I put biosecurity in place on my farm?’ Shannon said.

“I tell them that everyone who’s got a banana farm has got to think about what happens if disease gets onto their property.

“You’ve got to think about your Plan B and I think the cost and effort of biosecurity and protecting the value of your property as a banana farm has got to be less than the cost of a Plan B.

“It’s easy to justify the price of biosecurity measures.”

Shannon says growers who have thought the issue through have been quick to initiate biosecurity measures.

“It’s been really good to see so many growers getting involved in farm biosecurity with signage, wash down systems and fencing,” he said.

He advises growers that an excellent place to start is with the Panama Disease Prevention Checklist devised by Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Principal Development Horticulturist Stewart Lindsay. The checklist is available on the ABGC website and helps growers identify their farms’ Panama risk profile.

As growers of race 1-susceptible bananas, Shannon and Sarah have been strong advocates of farm gate biosecurity since starting farming bananas several years ago.

They grow seven exotic banana varieties, all race 1-susceptible, for niche markets around Australia.

At the farm, where they also live, there’s a closed gate to farm visitors with signage advising that biosecurity measures in place.

Shannon meets visitors at the gate on his quad bike to ensure all unnecessary vehicles stay outside. Even Shannon’s van, which brings farm workers to and from the property, stays outside the gate.

After washing down footwear, visitors can be ferried onto the property on the back of the quad bike. Those needing to bring vehicles onto the property, including for deliveries and to pick up loads, must first complete footwear and vehicle wash downs.

Because Panama can be carried in infected plant material, Shannon and Sarah also use clean tissue culture plants.

The property is already fenced and there are traps in place for any feral pigs who get through – the animals being a Panama risk because of the soil they can carry on their feet when moving between properties.

Following the confirmation of TR4, Shannon has acted to upgrade fencing with dingo mesh to further reduce the risk from feral animals.

Shannon was a member of the 2013 banana industry study tour to China and the Philippines where growers saw firsthand the serious impact of Panama TR4 on banana growing in areas where good biosecurity measures had not been implemented.

What he witnessed has been a big incentive for him to maintain on-farm biosecurity on his own farm as well as to let others know of its importance in a banana-growing region.