National plant protection program moving ahead

By Stewart Lindsay

The banana industry’s new national plant protection program is progressing well with field trials, farm surveys and IPM priority setting workshops underway or completed.

The plant protection program is the largest research and development investment made by the Australian banana industry and coordinates a project team of over 25 RD&E staff across the four banana producing states and territory.

The new program has a major emphasis on variety importation and screening.

More trials screening new varieties against Fusarium wilt Race 1 have been planted in northern NSW at Duranbah, along with trials to investigate the production performance and consumer acceptability of three resistant varieties identified from the previous program.

Field screening of new and existing varieties for resistance to Fusarium wilt TR4 continues in the Northern Territory with a new trial planting planned for in July/August 2018. Many of the same varieties will also be planted in a field trial assessing production performance and yellow Sigatoka resistance at the South Johnstone Research Station in north Queensland in August 2018.

Each of these trials will be assessing a range of Cavendish and non-Cavendish varieties.

The project team has also recently hosted a visit to north Queensland by representatives from the Taiwan Banana Research Institute (TBRI).

The activity was arranged to develop closer ties with the TBRI and their novel Cavendish banana breeding program looking for resistance to Fusarium wilt TR4.

This action was a recommendation from the program’s Banana Variety Subcommittee, a group of banana growers, ABGC staff, researchers and Hort Innovation staff that guiding the development of a strategic approach to variety importation and development for the Australian industry.

The program also continues to provide the quarantine facilities and procedures for importing new varieties into Australia in a way that safeguards our freedom from a range of exotic pests and diseases.

Quarantine procedures and accreditation required by the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAFWR) has been maintained by project staff and access to new banana varieties from Taiwan, France and Brazil is currently being negotiated for research purposes.

Project team members are also actively involved in conducting virus diagnostic screening as part of the importation process and for the QBAN clean planting material system.

They are also conducting research into detecting newly discovered viruses found in banana varieties imported from SE Asia.

The program also has a significant investment in research for new and improved IPM practices for bunch pests, spider mites, yellow Sigatoka and nematodes.

These priority work areas were confirmed by a series of workshops to prioritise the main activities.

Bunch pests, particularly banana rust thrips, are a high priority for research activities and field trials are underway to investigate a range of new chemical and biological products for control of bunch pests.

There are also field trials to investigate non-chemical controls like the influence of bunch cover colour on banana rust thrips activity.

The use of predatory mites to control spider mites is also being investigated with the assistance of cooperating growers, with early results showing significant reductions in pest mite numbers after the introduction of specific predatory mites.

For yellow Sigatoka there are a range of research activities looking at newer chemical and biological products for control as well as investigations to determine the pre- and post-infection activity of our current chemical products.

In the nematode R&D activities farm surveys have already been conducted to identify which plant parasitic nematodes are present in bananas in different production regions.

Samples from NSW, SE Queensland, north Queensland and Western Australia (Carnarvon) have shown that a range of nematode species such as Spiral nematode, Lesion nematode and Root-knot nematode are much more common in areas outside north Queensland.

More research will now be conducted on these other species to determine how damaging they are and what cover crops or fallow crops are non-hosts for them and can be used in a rotation system.

There will also be screening of novel new chemical and biological products for nematode control.

For more information about the program activities, contact Stewart Lindsay from Queensland DAF on 0742204120.

* The project Improved Plant Protection Program for the Banana Industry (BA16001) has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy, contributions from the Australian Government and co-investment from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Northern Territory DPIR and NSW DPI. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.