All growers nationally are being asked to have their say on a proposed Five-Year TR4 Control and Containment Strategy, to guide industry’s future response and decide how it will be funded. Sonia Campbell reports.
It is well recognised that Queensland’s banana industry has had unprecedented success in containing Panama Tropical race 4, to the extent that is has, since initial detection of the disease in the state’s far north, in March 2015.
It’s an achievement attributed to the extensive biosecurity controls implemented by individual growers, as well as the broad containment strategy executed by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), led by Biosecurity Queensland (BQ) – and supported by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) and Agri-Science Queensland, in
collaboration with industry.
To date, the Queensland Government has injected almost $30 million into the TR4 Program, to which growers and the ABGC have applauded.
However, industry is also aware that future departmental funding of the program is not guaranteed.
“The TR4 Program has been extremely important, in fact it has been vital to our industry, and for that we are extremely grateful,” ABGC Chair Stephen Lowe explains.
“Without BQ surveillance and its regulatory compliance work for TR4, the disease would spread much quicker. However, there is an urgent need for the Program to continue. There is also a need to ensure funding is made available for the next five years of the Program.”
“Consequently, ABGC has requested the Queensland Government, as a matter of urgency, continue to fund the TR4 Program for the remainder of 2018/19, as it has for the first two quarters of the financial year.”
In the meantime, ABGC is seeking input from growers on a way forward post 2018/2019, including future joint government/industry investment in the TR4 fight.
The ABGC recently sent all growers a letter with a link to its business case for a proposed 5-Year TR4 Control and Containment Program.
The business model discusses the rationale for both industry and the State Government to continue to invest in the TR4 Program to ensure a healthy and viable future.
It includes discussion on the ACIL Allen Review of the existing TR4 Program, which is now on the Government website: www.bit.ly/ACILAllenReview, as well as a clear mandate moving forward, to ensure industry has a solid jointly-led TR4 Containment Strategy.
“Over the next five years, this disease is expected to spread, but hopefully this will be minimised through continued containment efforts,” Mr Lowe said.
“It is important to note that the objective of containment is to buy time until there are research and development options for TR4-infested farms.
A main part of that containment strategy is maintaining existing biosecurity protocols.”
It is clear – particularly following the ACIL Allen report – that the banana industry is expected to increase its financial contributions to the TR4 Program over the next five years.
“ABGC has advised government that growers are already contributing significantly to the TR4 response. Growers are also paying off two debts, via two different levies, for the Banana Freckle cost-shared response (EPPR Levy) and the PHA Levy for the purchase of the first-infested farm at Tully Valley,” Mr Lowe said.
“We also advised that as a result of these debts, combined with the cost of individual farm biosecurity expenditure and poor prices over the last three financial years, growers have very little capacity to contribute further, at this stage,” he said.
“Nonetheless, ABGC believes that it is appropriate for industry to eventually fund part of the Program.
A possible source of funding could be via the existing PHA levy. The use of levy funds would only be appropriate after grower consultation and the development of an agreement whereby industry has an element of control over the allocation of its funds.”
ABGC and BQ co-agreement
The ABGC is currently working with the Queensland Government to develop a Memorandum Of Understanding to deliver a co-led and co-funded TR4 Program into the future.
It is hoped the MOU will be signed off on by March 2019 and active from July 1, 2019.
The MOU will set out funding contribution expectations for each party and a way forward together, to deliver the TR4 program.
ABGC is keen to hear feedback from growers nationally on the business case for the 5-Year TR4 Control and Containment Program and the future funding of this program.
For your input, or to ask any questions, please phone or email ABGC CEO Jim Pekin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07 3278 4786.
A full version of the business case can be found on the ABGC website at https://abgc.org.au/panama-tr4-business-case/