Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF)
Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC)
21 September 2021
Scientific review informs industry of a way forward in the management of Panama TR4
An independently commissioned review into Panama disease tropical race 4 (Panama TR4) in Far North Queensland has provided a list of research priorities to help guide industry to manage the disease in the long term.
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Chief Biosecurity Officer Malcolm Letts, who chairs the Panama TR4 Program Management Board (Board), said the 2021 Panama TR4 Epidemiological Review (the Review) also confirmed the combined industry and government response to control and contain the disease had to date been highly effective.
“The Board will now progress investigations into the protocol for destroying diseased plants and alternative methods of detecting the disease,” Mr Letts said.
“We’ll also consider research to help us understand the relationships between environmental conditions, the host and pathogen.
“With management of the disease transitioning to industry leadership in 2023, realistic and cost-effective solutions must now be sought for future control and containment efforts.
“For growers, the Review indicates how to limit the impact of a disease incursion through changes to agronomic practices.”
Tully-based grower and ABGC Chair Stephen Lowe said he hoped the Review will lead to future efficiencies that will continue the region’s legacy in containing the disease, but in a more cost-effective way.
“From now to mid-2023 we’ll need to identify ways in which we can continue to manage the disease with a smaller budget,” Mr Lowe said.
“It is imperative that we continue to have success in containing Panama TR4 to buy industry more time to find a commercially viable banana variety that is resistant to this disease, and to ensure the long-term future of our national industry.
“With 94 percent of Australia’s bananas grown in Far North Queensland, the $600 million industry provides significant employment opportunities and supports regional economies.
“Shared responsibility is key to ongoing success in the fight against Panama TR4.”
Co-author of the Review and Panama disease expert Dr Brett Summerell said Queensland’s efforts had been world-class in controlling and containing the disease.
“Panama TR4 has caused devastation across the world’s banana growing regions,” Dr Summerell said.
“The Queensland effort has been huge, with a lot of investment by growers and government. This collaboration has resulted in Panama TR4 being successfully contained to just five properties in six years.
“We’re very impressed by all parties who have played a role in managing the disease.”
Panama TR4 was first discovered in the heartland of Australia’s banana growing region of the Tully Valley in 2015. The disease is non-eradicable and strong biosecurity measures as well as early detection are currently the most effective defence against an incursion.
An agreement between the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) will see the management of Panama TR4 transitioned to industry leadership from 1 July 2023.
For further information about Panama TR4 go to panamatr4protect.com.au, or follow Biosecurity Queensland on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@DAFQld).
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries – Jael Napper M 0476 850 037
Australian Banana Growers’ Council – Sonia Campbell M 0428 038 330
- Panama disease tropical race 4 (PanamaTR4, the disease) is a soil-borne fungal disease present in Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory.
- It was first detected in Queensland in March 2015 on a commercial banana farm in the Tully Valley. Further detections were made in July 2017, February 2018, February, and September 2020. The affected properties are all in close proximity to each other.
- Since the first detection, banana growers, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council and the Panama TR4 Program have worked together to successfully manage the spread of the disease.
- The Panama TR4 Program Management Board met for the first time in April 2020, beginning a unique government-industry partnership arrangement to protect the future of the banana industry.
- The Queensland Government and the Australian Banana Growers’ Council have signed agreements to jointly fund, govern and deliver the Program until June 2023.
- To date, the Queensland Government has invested more than $42 million to manage the disease in Far North Queensland.
- Eradication of Panama TR4 is not feasible. The disease is easily spread by the movement of infected banana plants and planting material, and contaminated soil and water. Anything that moves soil and water can move the disease – people, vehicles, machinery, equipment and animals. Natural processes such as heavy rainfall and floods can move the fungus as well. Movement of people and machinery is the biggest threat to disease spread.
- There is no practical way to test for presence of the disease in soil and water. The most effective way for detecting Panama TR4 is to identify visual symptoms in the banana plant.