New phase for freckle eradication

The largest emergency plant pest response underway in Australia, the $26 million National Banana Freckle Eradication Program, is now in its second phase following the removal of banana plants from Northern Territory eradication zones.

Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) Chief Executive Officer Jim Pekin visited Darwin in September to thank the Northern Territory Government and community for their efforts to rid Australia of the pest.

Mr Pekin met with NT Primary Industry and Fisheries Minister Willem Westra van Holthe and Program Coordinator Kevin Cooper to discuss progress with the eradication program’s second phase.

“Banana Freckle is one of the world’s most destructive banana plant diseases and the work to eradicate it from the NT, and therefore from Australia, is only possible thanks to the support of the Territory Government and Territorians,” Mr Pekin said.

“Australia’s commercial banana growers acknowledge the extent of these efforts. In particular, banana growers would like to thank the thousands of community members whose banana plants have been removed from backyards, rural properties, hobby farms and school and community gardens as part of the eradication.”

Banana plants have been removed from six “red zones” with regrowth now being checked.

The zones are to remain free of banana plants throughout the wet season and planting of tissue culture banana plants is scheduled to begin in May next year. Surveillance will continue for a further year and if no Banana Freckle is found, area proof of freedom can be gained in mid-2017.

The ABGC is a signatory to the national Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed which was activated when a national committee determined in October 2014 that a freckle eradication response should begin.

As part of the deed arrangements, every commercial grower producing bananas across Australia’s banana growing regions is paying a compulsory production levy of 0.75 cents per kilogram of bananas marketed, or 9.75 cents per 13kg carton.

“Growers will continue to make this levy contribution over the next five years or so until the banana industry’s contribution to the financial cost of the eradication is met. That’s so far estimated at about $13 million or half of the total $26 million cost,” Mr Pekin said.

“It’s a substantial financial investment for commercial growers which reinforces the fact that biosecurity is a top priority for the banana industry.”

Banana Freckle (Phyllosticta cavendishii) covers banana plants and fruit skins with sandpaper-like blemishes, affecting plant growth and making affected fruit unmarketable. It spreads via spores that can also be carried on infected banana suckers and fruit.

Freckle was detected on backyard Cavendish banana plants south of Darwin in July 2013, the first time it had been found in the Northern Territory on Australia’s major banana variety.