CEO Column

Jim Pekin, CEO

Colombia TR4

At the time of writing this column (July 23), there were reports of a suspected case of Panama tropical race 4 (TR4), detected in Colombia.

If this is confirmed, it will be Latin America’s first TR4 detection and a bitter blow for the Colombian industry, which is one of the largest banana exporters in the world.

It is always disappointing to hear that this devastating disease is spreading – but unfortunately, it is also inevitable.

A confirmed Colombian TR4 test result would be of major concern to the banana industries in South and Central America. We know all too well the impact Panama TR4 can have, and our thoughts are with our banana growing counterparts across the globe.

This latest news reaffirms the Australian industry’s commitment to strong biosecurity and is a timely reminder of the relative success industry and government have had to date in containing the spread of this disease in North Queensland.It also reaffirms our commitment to support the dedicated researchers working behind the scenes to find commercially viable alternatives.

Over coming months, representatives from both Colombia and their neighbours, Ecuador, are planning to visit North Queensland and talk with relevant Department of Agriculture and Fisheries experts. The Ecuadorian Growers’ Association (AgroBan) are also planning to visit DAF and some NQ farms. Both Agroban and the Ecuadorian Government scientists have asked for ABGC’s assistance to brief their delegations on how we have managed to contain and control TR4, to the extent that we have, in Queensland.

As we know, there are many challenges for managing TR4-infected farms. However, on a large scale, to have just three farms in North Queensland with confirmed detections in almost four-and-a-half years, is a relatively good result.

The quarantine and containment measures, early detection and rapid destruction of infested plants have slowed the spread significantly compared to other countries where ineffective control measures were put in place. For example, in China, the area of TR4 affected land increased from 14 ha to 14,000ha in the 4 years after TR4 was first detected.

However, everyone needs to factor in that TR4 has continued to spread, albeit slowly, in the Tully Valley. A story on Page 10 of this magazine includes a graph of the increase in the total number of confirmed TR4 (VCG positive) plants over time. It is another reminder that our consistent efforts to manage and contain the spread of this disease should continue unabated and if all growers do their bit to protect their farms, our industry will be in good hands.

Bunchy Top

Another major disease of great concern to industry is Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV). It is the most destructive viral disease of bananas and is also spreading around the world.

The ABGC recently successfully tendered to deliver the new, three-year BBTV project for the banana industry, funded by Hort Innovation.

The ABGC Board approved the tender for it, after understanding the challenges of it, due to the importance of containing the spread of this high priority disease.

ABGC recently signed the contract for the project and has employed David Peasley as the Project Manager.

The objectives of this new project are to prevent Bunchy Top from spreading to the main growing areas and to reduce the infections on commercial banana farms within the existing incursion areas.

While we will continue the previous projects’ surveillance and destruction activities on commercial farms, we will also train growers to do this themselves. We also aim to share the responsibility for the disease in abandoned plantations with the biosecurity authorities in NSW and Queensland.

Eco-science tour

Prior to the June board meeting in Brisbane, ABGC directors Stephen Lowe and Jade Buchanan, along with ABGC staff, were shown the Panama TR4 testing processes at the Eco Science Precinct in Brisbane.

We found the processes involved in the diagnosis extremely informative and applaud the work of the scientists who conduct the extensive molecular diagnostic procedures at the site, from receiving a sample through to results.