NT freckle update

By Rosie Godwin

Banana Freckle (Phyllosticta cavendishii) was detected in Northern Territory (NT) in 2013, and a response has been underway since then. Banana Freckle affects non-Cavendish and Cavendish banana plants and was found widely across the greater Darwin area. It was also found in five isolated regional locations in NT’s Top End. Surveillance of the areas of the NT outside the declared Banana Freckle quarantine zones showed these areas to be free of Banana Freckle.

The current National Banana Freckle Eradication program (NBFEP) has been in progress since October 2014, and is of major importance to the protection of Australia’s $600 million commercial banana industry and those who rely on it for their livelihood. The eradication program is comprised of four phases:

·         Phase 1. Destruction and removal of all bananas within prescribed zones (Oct 14 – Apr 15).

·         Phase 2. Banana host-free period, for at least six months, including a full wet season (May 15 – Apr 16).

·         Phase 3. Controlled reintroduction of banana hosts (sentinel plants) and ongoing monitoring over 12 months. Replanting of disease-free tissue culture bananas under permit with targeted surveillance for Banana Freckle (May 16 – Apr 17)

·         Phase 4. Assessment of proof of freedom (May 17 – Apr 18).All phases involve targeted surveillance inside and outside quarantine zones for Banana Freckle, movement restrictions, compliance, enforcement and tracing.

The current status of the National Banana Freckle Eradication program (NBFEP) (at 20 Jan 2017):

Phase 3, the 12-month sentinel planting phase of clean banana material, is currently underway in the NT quarantine zones and is due for completion on 30 April 17. Three-thousand properties in the six quarantine zones have been progressively receiving banana plants from the program out of a pool of over 9000 properties which had banana plants removed in Phase 1 of the program. The sentinels were distributed mostly to private properties, schools, churches, other public places and remote Indigenous communities.

In addition to program-supplied sentinel plants, 242 properties in the NT quarantine zones have purchased banana plants under permit from approved plant nurseries in the Darwin area. As part of the permit conditions for property owners, all banana plants in the quarantine zones are being inspected for Banana Freckle by Program Plant Health Inspectors.

Banana Freckle movement restrictions are still in place. The introduction of banana plant material into quarantine zones and the movement of banana plant material within or out of quarantine zones is prohibited unless authorised by permit. This includes any proposed movement or cultivation of banana plants by horticulturalists, nurseries or researchers, which cannot be undertaken without permission and a permit. The program is working with growers, nurseries and researchers on a case-by-case basis, in setting permit conditions, monitoring banana plants and ensuring compliance with the permit.

There have been 124 detections of unauthorised banana plants in declared quarantine zones but no detection of the Banana Freckle on any banana plants since November 2015. The NT is free of Banana Freckle. However, surveillance for the disease in quarantine zones will continue until formal area freedom is declared.

Banana growers, householders and banana production nurseries, especially in northern Australia, are reminded to check their banana plants and report any signs of Banana Freckle to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. If you live in the NT, you can call the Banana Freckle Hotline on 1800 771 163. 

 Cost sharing

The NBFEP remains on track to achieve eradication in 2017. Collection of the Emergency Plant Pest Response (EPPR) levy, which is funding the banana industry’s contribution to the eradication response, began on the 1 July 2015 and will cease when no longer required. This is estimated to be at the end of 2020.