The race to outpace Panama

The race is on to find new, disease resistant banana varieties that will flourish in subtropical conditions, providing more options and niche markets for the region’s growers. Story by Luke Roberts.
Subtropical growers keen to develop niche markets using disease-resistant banana varieties have seen and tasted fruit from the plants at a NSW field day.

The March event happened to coincide with news that the fungal disease Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4) was suspected (and later confirmed) in North Queensland.

NSW growers are already battling another race of the disease, Race 1, as are growers in parts of Queensland.

Although Race 1 doesn’t affect Cavendish bananas it does attack varieties that some growers favour for their niche market value, such as Lady Fingers and Ducasse.

About 40 growers from across NSW subtropical growing regions were at the new commercial trial block at Duranbah, in the Tweed region, to see the some 18 varieties. Included were growers from Race 1-affected properties who are keen to return to farming non-Cavendish varieties.

The block is the second one planted out with resistant varieties. Plants have also been tested for disease resistance over three years on an adjacent block, known as “the killing fields”, first planted in early 2012.

Growers had the chance to see the plants in the field and to taste fruit from the “killing fields” plants, some of which are in their second ratoon.

Included are local and international Lady Finger and Cavendish types, as well as others.

The best performing varieties were planted on the new section of the trial block in January last year. The plants are grown under commercial-farm conditions and many are bunching well.

The Duranbah trial is part of the Australian banana industry’s Banana Plant Protection Program (BPPP).

At the field day, growers were able to meet and discuss the merits of the potential new varieties with BPPP team members André Drenth, Mike Smith and trial block manager David Peasley. NSW banana IDO Matt Weinert also spoke with growers and demonstrated new weevil borer traps.

A tour of the trial block and information sessions were features of the day which started with some taste-testing of fruit from the “killing fields” plants.

The new varieties have the potential to help growers beat Panama Race 1 and also to develop more markets for their fruit. The varieties also have potential for growing in areas not affected by Race 1.

Trial block manager David Peasley said the field day was vital for growers to see how the plants were performing and to taste different varieties.

“There is exciting potential for the industry given the promising performance so far of some of these new varieties,” David said.

Details of the better-performing varieties are provided in the table below.

The next step is to have growers in selected locations between Yandina in southeast Queensland and Nambucca on the NSW mid north coast trial the plants on their farms to see how they perform in those locations.

Further trials over the next 12 months will include tests on the fruit to monitor ripening requirements and assess qualities such as shelf-life, skin colour and appearance. Taste tests, where consumers try the fruit, are also planned down the track.

Get involved

Subtropical growers interested in hearing more about the new varieties with the potential to trial them on their property should contact Trial Manager David Peasley on 02 6677 7317