Industry resilient in face of Panama disease

The discovery of a suspect second case of Panama disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4) on a property in the Tully Valley was not ideal, but was not unexpected.

Panama TR4 acting program leader Rhiannon Evans said that although Panama disease was extremely difficult to manage, Biosecurity Queensland was committed to working with industry to tackle this current challenge.

“We do not intend to walk away from this industry. We will continue to work closely with everyone involved to safeguard the region’s biggest employer and Australia’s largest horticultural crop,” Ms Evans said.

“Our main priority is to ensure that the affected business will continue to operate with as little disruption as possible, while not creating any risk for other producers in the region.”

Ms Evans said experience gained from the initial detection held the industry in good stead.

“Since the disease was first discovered over two and half years ago, we now know more about it and are more confident in our approach,” she said.

“Biosecurity Queensland has implemented rigorous biosecurity protocols underpinned by world class scientific research and we will continue with our current research and development program to support the industry in the long-term.

“The Queensland banana industry is well placed and confident in their own ability to implement biosecurity measures to mitigate the risk of spread of this disease.

“We will continue to collaborate with industry to develop other measures that help protect farms into the future.”

Ms Evans said in light of the suspect second detection, now was the time for growers to assess current on-farm biosecurity plans.

“There are many growers in the region investing in prevention of the disease at their property boundaries,” she said.

“They’ve had time to prepare and implement their on-farm biosecurity plans, they have an understanding of the disease and are proactively protecting their farms.

“Now may be a prudent time to take stock of current procedures, check if they are working effectively and see if any areas can be improved.”

Ms Evans stressed the importance of washing and decontaminating farm vehicles, machinery and equipment on farm entry and exit as part of an effective farm biosecurity plan.

“It takes just one fungal spore to infect a banana plant. The disease is not eradicable and therefore, cannot be cured by any known chemical or biological means. It can be easily transported in infected plant material, soil and water,” she said.

“Follow the come clean, leave clean guidelines to minimise the risk of transporting soil onto and off your farm, and onto public roads and easements.

“Check disinfectant levels are sufficient and manage waste water appropriately.

“Implementing farm biosecurity needn’t be expensive and new layers of biosecurity can be added as more resources become available.”

Ms Evans said Biosecurity Queensland had many resources available for growers who would like information regarding effective on-farm biosecurity measures.

“Growers can phone our public information number on 13 25 23 or visit the Biosecurity Queensland website for more information.”

Ms Evans reminded the community that Panama disease tropical race 4 was not harmful to humans and does not affect the fruit.

“The fungus only affects the health of the plant and its ability to produce fruit – bananas are still good to eat so support our local industry and grab some bananas,” she said.

Protect your farm from Panama disease

Cleaning and disinfecting machinery, footwear, and equipment entering or exiting production areas of banana farms can reduce the risk of disease spread. For decontamination to be effective, the following three steps are recommended.

1.   Clean – with a detergent, use a tool or brush to remove all soil and or plant material

2.   Rinse – using clean water

3.   Disinfect – with a registered product containing quaternary ammonium (QA) compounds containing 12% (120g/L) didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride and used as per the product label.

If you’re concerned about long term repeated exposure of QA compounds on vehicles, machinery, equipment and footwear consider an additional final rinse step.

This disinfection process should apply to all vehicles, machinery and equipment that exit and enter a banana farm. Industry contractors such as agronomists and bell injectors, produce transport companies, delivery vehicles and service and utility providers should all be aware of, and comply with, your farm’s biosecurity plan.

Ms Evans said to follow the come clean, leave clean guidelines to minimise the risk of transporting soil onto public roads and easements.

“Mud deposited on public roads from banana farm vehicles and machinery is a real concern for many growers,” she said.

“Consider other growers and keep your soil on your property. Clean and disinfect your vehicles and machinery upon farm entry and exit if you must cross a public road, railway line or easement as part of your farming operations.”

Farm zoning, restrict movement on your farm

Farm zoning can be a cost effective means to controlling the movement of people, vehicles and machinery both between zones and within zones. Three zones are typically used:

·         An exclusion zone for all non-essential vehicles such as visitor and staff car parking, typically located near the farm entrance.

·         A separation or ‘clean’ zone which is a roadway for essential vehicles that need to come on farm. For example, fruit pick-up trucks, fertiliser or fuel delivery or waste pick up.

·         A farming activity or ‘dirty zone’ where farm vehicles, machinery and equipment operate. Vehicles, machinery, equipment or tools should not enter or exit this area without appropriate decontamination.

Biosecurity Queensland has produced a resource “Wash-down designs to combat Panama disease tropical race 4” for banana growers in Far North Queensland. A copy has been mailed to every grower in the region. If you don’t have a copy phone 13 25 23 and we’ll send you one or you can download a copy off the Biosecurity Queensland website

Feral pigs and Panama disease

As soon as feral pigs, or feral pig activity is noticed on your land, it’s time to start a trapping program.

TR4 can be easily spread by animals when infected soil sticks to their feet and fur. Feral pigs are a particular concern as they habitually wallow in mud and are attracted to banana farms, as the farm can provide a reliable food source.

Ms Evans said a collaborative trapping program with neighbours was an effective way to control pigs and lower the risk of spread of Panama disease tropical race 4.

“Feral pigs don’t pay heed to boundaries and will travel across numerous farms in search of food and water, exposing growers to potential spread of pests and disease,” she said.

“Get together with your neighbours to coordinate your trapping program.

“Cassowary Coast Regional Council has pig traps and hog hoppers for loan and, if your farm is adjacent to a national park, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service can assist with wildlife friendly traps and expert advice.”

The Panama TR4 Program, in collaboration with key agencies, has published Trapping Feral Pigs on the Cassowary Coast: a practical guide for banana growers farming in the presence of Panama disease tropical race 4. The guide has been distributed to all banana growers in Far North Queensland. Download a copy from the website under ‘Panama disease’ or call 13 25 23.


Written by Deanna Belbin, Biosecurity Queensland