Banana growers have pleaded with recreational pig hunters in Far North Queensland to not enter banana farms without permission, warning that a recent spate of illegal trespassing posed a serious risk to their $600 million industry and the Cassowary Coast economy.
The Australian Banana Growers’ Council has raised these concerns following reports of increased illegal hunting activity on banana farms in the Tully/Innisfail region, prompting major fears it could lead to the spread of the devastating fungal disease Panama tropical race 4 (TR4).
Panama TR4 is a soil borne disease that can be transferred by people, animals, vehicles and other machinery entering and exiting banana properties.
ABGC Deputy Chair Leon Collins said he had recently become aware of a significant rise in the number of growers reporting illegal entry onto their farms from local hunters, including dogs and vehicles entering properties regularly without permission.
“We are definitely not here to get pig hunters off-side. However, it is imperative that we make them aware that entering any banana property without permission and not adhering to strict biosecurity measures, could have absolutely devastating impacts by potentially spreading Panama TR4,” Mr Collins said.
“If this disease does spread more broadly, it will not only affect farmers’ own livelihoods, but also impact heavily on the local communities of the Cassowary Coast that rely so heavily on the banana industry.”
“The industry is the major employer and main economic driver for the entire Cassowary Coast region.
“To hear that people are cutting fences to enter properties, without permission, thereby putting our entire industry in jeopardy is alarming and we implore those that are doing it to please consider the consequences of their actions and stop the practice immediately.”
Mr Collins noted that feral pigs were a major concern for growers, as they too can transfer disease between properties. However, the ABGC, government and growers had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a co-ordinated feral pig culling program over the past two years.
Using a multi-pronged approach, including aerial shooting, ground shooting, baiting, exclusion fencing and trapping, more than 4600 pigs have been culled from the Tully Valley since July 2017.
“Since the first Queensland detection of TR4 in the Tully Valley in March 2015, there have been just two other farms detected with the disease, thanks to the collaborative effort of ABGC, Biosecurity Queensland, individual growers, researchers and the wider community.
“There is no other country in the world that has had similar success in containing this disease.
“We’ve had to adapt in order to fend off this disease and industry, government and growers have spent millions of dollars implementing extensive biosecurity controls.
“If just one pig hunter cuts a fence to enter a banana property and they pick up soil that is infected with this disease and they move this soil via their tyres or footwear to another farm, it jeopardises every measure and control that we have put in place.”
Mr Collins said it was a responsibility of all Queenslanders to take an active role in managing biosecurity risks under their control. Under the Biosecurity Act 2014, individuals and organisations must take all reasonable steps to ensure they do not spread a pest, disease or contaminant.