Fielding ideas-growers share their TR4 innovations

Converted shipping containers, cattle tags, specially designed spray nozzles and catwalks are just some of the items innovative banana growers are using to protect their farms from Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4).

Banana growers met at the industry’s first TR4 day at Wangan in North Queensland to share their stories on how they are managing the challenges of stopping the soil-borne disease.

Four growers spoke about the changes they have made to their farms to introduce and upgrade biosecurity measures.

East Palmerston grower Tiger Mereider, Wangan’s Gavin Eilers and Mena Creek growers Matt Abbott and Kris Horsford spoke about their TR4 efforts. The four, along with grower Andrew Serra, also participated in biosecurity videos screened at the field day.

Matt told the field day audience of his initial struggle with working out how to introduce effective biosecurity measures to his Mena Creek banana farm.

For the first two weeks after TR4 was confirmed in the Tully Valley “I wasn’t too sure where my head was at,” he said.

“I didn’t know what to do because I was trying to do the whole thing in one go.

“So I sat down, prioritised it and just started ticking one thing off at a time, from the most important, and just working through, and I’m still working through it now.”

Matt, Gavin and Andrew have all introduced measures including footwear management systems to their farms.

Tiger and Kris have invested tens of thousands of dollars in truck washdown systems with Kris’s including a covered shed and a system of nozzles shooting jets of water underneath vehicles to clean off soil as they enter the farm.

Tiger told about the upgrades to his farm-gate system which includes foot baths and a truck wash.

Gavin, from LMB’s Stockton farm spoke about introducing the zonal system, gating the farm and moving fuel bowsers to the front gate to reduce vehicle and people movements. The farm also has retaining walls to separate shed and farm zones and manage waste water flow and a section of catwalk to help keep footwear free of soil.

“I got together with my partners on the farm and we made a plan,” Gavin said of his approach to biosecurity measures.

“We started with the most important area, in our eyes, to the least and for us that was wallaby proofing or vermin proofing – so that was our first priority to stop animal movement. Then we zoned it from there to stop trucks and people and any other vehicles from crossing paths with tractors, motorbikes, farm machinery – we’ve just built on it from there.

Tiger Mereider. a Cavendish grower who previously grew Ducasse until an outbreak of Panama Race 1 on his farm about 16 years ago, said he had upgraded his East Palmerston farm’s wash down system after TR4 was confirmed in the Tully Valley.

“When this race 4 came up we said ‘okay we’ll modify this so we’ve got clean in, clean out’.

“We’ve stopped traffic coming into the shed – we’ve got one truck that comes in a day – empties in, fulls out … no other vehicles.”

Kris said he had taken power and water to his farm gate to install a major wash down system that includes a roofed shed housing a grate over nozzles that clean down the undercarriage and tyres oftransport vehicles that need to come on to the farm.

The nozzles first spray fresh water and then steriliser stored in a 1000-litre shuttle.

While the system is for vehicles from transport, carton and fertiliser suppliers, Kris said it had been tested out on more challenging tasks. “We actually drove a tractor through it with a heap of mud on it to see if it got rid of the dirt, and it’s still leaving a bit of dirt at the moment so it needs a few more nozzles,” Kris said.

“Work vehicles get parked at the side of the property now and we’ve basically got a vehicle that goes from the wash to the shed.”

Andrew Serra has installed a shipping container, bought in Cairns and converted into a boot room.

There is a foot bath at either end and a bench where workers exchange their street shoes for either their own farm boots or gumboots identified using attached cattle tags. Boots are also supplied for visitors.

“We looked at what was cheap, easy and effective,” Andrew said of the converted container that cost about $4,000 to buy, convert and install with no slab or electrical wiring required.

His tips for further improvements to the system would be better segregation between “clean” and “dirty” areas where footwear is changed in the boot room and adding awnings over the external footbaths to reduce evaporation or dilution by rain.

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Principal Development Horticulturist & Team Leader – Banana Production Systems Stewart Lindsay said some of the growers’ major achievements were to reduce traffic onto their farms and to create biosecurity layers.

“None of these guys have continued traffic as it previously was. It’s essential vehicles only,” Stewart said.

“It’s about layers, if any one measure fails then the other one will catch it.”

Australian Banana Growers’ Council Chair Doug Phillips thanked all growers for attending the field day and taking on biosecurity issues.

“Certainly in the early days there were lots of questions and the questions were coming in faster than we could generate answers,” he said.

“I guess today is the result of us starting to generate some of those answers. What I’ve certainly noticed is that some of the solutions that have been found by individual growers are absolutely brilliant.”

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Mareeba plant pathologists Peter Trevorrow (above) and Kathy Grice conducted the research and presented their initial findings at the Wangan TR4 field day.

The tests used different dilution rates of the products to check their effectiveness in killing the spores over four different lengths of contact time – from a few seconds, similar to the contact time for footwear in a foot bath, through to 24 hours, similar to the time wash down waste water might stay in a holding tank.

Testing was also done with and without the presence of a similar proportion of soil to that which could be found in vehicle dips or footbaths – one part soil to 20 parts of the product solution.

Further research is continuing to investigate the influence of different soil types on the effectiveness of the products to treat waste water from wash downs.

The other four categories of disinfectants and sanitisers tested were Biocides, detergent-based products, Bio-flavonoids and bleach.