What used to be normal, everyday farm practices can now put banana production at risk from TR4. Stewart Lindsay reports on how to make the change to safer farming.
It’s one of the most significant disease threats to global banana production and it’s now in North Queensland.
Panama disease Tropical Race 4 of bananas, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, is spread through the movement of contaminated plant material, soil and water.
There are currently no effective chemical, biological or cultural practices that can eliminate the disease and there are no suitable resistant banana varieties that are commercially acceptable.
That means implementing effective biosecurity practices on your farm to prevent Panama disease is currently the only measure to safeguard continued banana production.
Planning how to implement these practices is crucial.
Firstly, it can help you decide if significant capital investment is justified. And planning will also help you to determine where best to place any infrastructure you decide to introduce to your farm. Developing a plan might initially seem overwhelming because what has been considered normal practice in the banana industry can now pose a significant risk of spreading the disease.
Excluding the movement of plant material, soil and water onto your property should be the foundation of your biosecurity planning to manage the risk of introducing Panama disease.
Machinery, vehicles, tools and people are high-risk items due to the soil they carry.
An important part of exclusion is to limit access by fencing some, or all, of the property boundary and limiting vehicle access points to the minimum number possible.
These vehicle-access points need to have gates and clear signage to inform visitors of the conditions of entry.
People and vehicles coming to your property should seek prior approval so they are fully aware of your conditions for access.
Upon arrival, all vehicles and footwear should be inspected to confirm freedom from attached soil or plant material.
When planning for implementation of biosecurity practices, you should start with the question: “To conduct my banana farming business and keep my farm free of Panama disease does this person/vehicle/machinery/equipment/planting material absolutely have to come onto my farm?”
The answer should be “no”, especially for machinery, equipment and footwear that has been used on other farms.If the answer must be “yes” then you should implement practices to manage access to the farm.
In the zone
One of the best ways to manage this access is to organise your property into different zones with restricted access between each.
These zones create treatment “layers” that enhance biosecurity.
A practical way to manage a biosecurity policy on your farm is to establish three different zones with no uncontrolled movement between them.
Experience with helping establish these zones shows that defining where they fit on your property is best done on a property map using a different colour for each zone.
You can also mark important risk pathway information on this map such as drainage lines, flood prone areas, public roads, railway lines etc.
After considering your farms access points and the people, animals, machinery, and equipment that come onto your farm, the next step is to prioritise your implementation of biosecurity practices.
The high priority is implementing the zones and restricting access between them. It can be implemented quickly with temporary barriers (pipes, logs, rocks etc) until fencing or other permanent barriers are put in place.
Fencing or other types of physical barriers are very important to reinforce the separation of zones.
Movement across zone boundaries must be managed very closely with clear procedures and appropriate facilities to wash down and decontaminate vehicles, footwear, machinery and tools.
Clear procedures must be developed and communicated to any person who needs to cross over a zone boundary. It is especially important for all staff, suppliers and contractors to be trained in complying with the procedures.
The owner or manager is ultimately responsible for the biosecurity of a banana farm and regular checks for compliance with exclusion and wash down and decontamination procedures and facilities is vitally important.