New improved plant protection program takes shape

Hort Innovation signed off on a new five-year plant protection program for the banana industry earlier this year.

This improved program sees the Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) take the lead on different areas of the project.

This project, which has over 30 researchers supporting it, aims to provide the Australian banana industry with safe access to disease free, new and improved varieties, strengthened diagnostic capacity and improved integrated pest and disease management strategies.

In the DAF led components, scientists are negotiating access to and evaluating banana varieties to identify desirable traits, in particular addressing the need for banana cultivars for production in TR4-affected locations.

This includes the running of screening and field trials in NSW (against Panama disease Race 1) and in the Northern Territory to identify varieties with improved pest, disease, agronomic and consumer preference traits suited to diversify production, expand sales, improve production efficiency and sustain production in the face of disease.

It is vital that new banana cultivars are safely imported into Australia free from exotic pests and diseases and therefore DAF will provide the facilities and processes to ensure the safe importation of international plant material.

With an estimated $30 million and $43 million spent annually in North Queensland on leaf disease and bunch pest control respectively, there is an emphasis on researching improved pest and disease management strategies.

The aim of this research area led by DAF is to provide industry with new pest and disease control options that reduce the reliance on chemicals, alleviate resistance and reduce labour costs, particularly focusing on leaf diseases, bunch pests and nematodes.

The strategic levy investment project BA16001 (Improved plant protection for the banana industry) is part of the Hort Innovation Banana Fund, working in partnership with BA16005 (Strengthening industry diagnostic capacity) which focuses on developing diagnostic assays for early detection of exotic and emerging plant pathogens.

This research led by QAAFI is important for management of potential future disease incursions.

A Project Reference Group with members from across the banana industry and its various sectors will help to ensure the project remains focused on the high priority issues.

It is joined by the Variety Committee which consists of banana growers, supply chain businesses and researchers and provides guidance on issues associated with variety importation and development.

These groups are a key part of the guiding the project activities by providing advice and feedback to the Hort innovation R&D Strategic Industry Advisory Panel (SIAP) and BA16001 project staff.

As there are many important activities and scientists involved, working on the project at a range of sites across the country, the project team is using tech solutions to provide progress
updates and foster a cohesive project team to ensure the best possible outcomes for industry.

The researchers involved in this project are looking forward to continuing to support the industry in their research areas of expertise.

* The project Improved plant protection for the banana industry (BA16001) has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the Banana research and development levy, and contributions from the Australian Government, with in-kind contributions from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian Horticulture.