North Queensland soil health scientist Tegan Kukulies has been appointed as the new leader of the banana industry’s Banana Development and Extension Program.
The new role began in March and Tegan is leading initiatives bringing the findings of banana research to growers via activities such as field days, presentations and videos.
She will also be running the national banana extension roadshow which takes scientists to Australia’s major banana growing regions and coordinating the NextGen young growers’ group.
Tegan is a Senior Development Horticulturist at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ South Johnstone Research Station. Her banana research work has included participation in an international project on Panama TR4 which included work in the Philippines last year on the use of ground covers to suppress the pathogen’s spread.
One of her first tasks in her new role was to produce a video showing growers the symptoms of TR4 and providing advice on protecting their farms. Tegan answers our ten questions.
Tell us what got you interested in the banana industry?
At high school I did work experience at the Department of Primary Industries. I had the opportunity to spend the week working with different researchers based at the South Johnstone office. This really sparked my interest in agricultural research and helping find practical solutions for growers.
Where did you do your training, both academic and in the field?
I completed my science degree at James Cook University in Cairns. I was fortunate enough to start working with Dr Tony Pattison after I completed my degree, which then led to Tony co-supervising my honours project about organic matter management in bananas. I have been a part of the successful soil health team at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries ever since and have gained a great deal of knowledge on soil health, particularly the biological aspect.
Tell us what happens on a good day? And on a not-so-good day?
On a good day you observe something that has the potential to improve the way we do things in the industry and on a bad day things don’t go to plan and you can’t explain why.
How does your work help the industry and tell us about a breakthrough moment you’ve had on a project?
I have worked on a range of banana projects however the most significant ones are the ACIAR (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) funded projects which are focused on soil health and Panama Disease.
More specifically, investigating how the management of ground covers coupled with good farm management can potentially create suppressive systems that could allow growers to continue growing bananas in the presence of the disease.
A breakthrough moment was working with Dr Tony Pattison showing that encouraging indigenous organisms by maintaining a groundcover around the base of plants significantly reduced the symptoms of Panama Race 1 in Ducasse. The current ACIAR project is designed to allow us to continue researching these soil management practices as well as provide insight on the most effective on-farm biosecurity practices for Panama.
What’s one of your favourite things about working in the banana industry?
As a part of my new role I am really going to enjoy working more closely with the people in the industry. Characteristically, people in the banana industry are down to earth, open minded and very innovative, which I think largely contributes to the success of the industry as a whole.
When you tell people your work includes banana research, what do they usually ask about?
Over the past couple of months the hot topic is Panama Tropical Race 4! However before that detection, and given my previous involvement in soil health, people would ask about cover crops, soil biology and microbial products.
What’s one of the things most people don’t know about bananas?
Bananas have amazing health benefits. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away but I think a banana a day will also do the trick!
From a science perspective, what’s a current hot topic about banana production?
Well, there’s no doubt about it – Panama Tropical Race 4! More specifically, matters relating to on-farm biosecurity practices and the future research into tolerant varieties.
How do you like your bananas – fresh or cooked, what’s your favourite banana recipe and how often do you make it?
You can’t beat a fresh banana (firm), although it is also hard to go past a fresh banana cake. Just recently I tried a banana and Nutella pizza, and it was delicious.
When you’ve got time off, what are some of your favourite pastimes?
Growing up at Kurrimine Beach means that, by default, I enjoy all the water sports – fishing, diving, spearfishing, water skiing and wakeboarding. We really are spoilt in this part of the world and I count myself lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy all of these water sports.