Joint Release: Banana freckle detected in NT

Banana freckle has been detected at a rural residential property in the Northern Territory’s Top End. 

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade confirmed the sequencing results from an interstate laboratory yesterday afternoon. 

Banana freckle is a fungal disease of banana leaves and fruit. There is no risk to human health from eating affected bananas. 

The Phyllosticta cavendishii strain of fungus was detected on Dwarf Cavendish bananas at the infected property in the Batchelor – Rum Jungle region. The banana plants have only been grown on the infected property for the past 3 years (after the eradication of banana freckle in the NT in 2019). 

Plant biosecurity officers are undertaking surveillance across the Top End to determine how widespread the pest is. They will follow strict biosecurity decontamination protocols when entering and exiting any premises to prevent the risk of spreading the disease. 

Banana freckle is a ‘wet spore’ organism. It generally moves short distances by water droplet splashes and wind-driven rain. The pest is spread over larger distances by people moving infected fruit, leaves and suckers used for planting.

Banana freckle causes spotting on banana leaves and fruit. The signs include: 

  • A sandpaper-like texture on leaves and fruit. This is caused by the pest sticking up through the surface of the leaf or skin. 
  • Spotting may extend to the flower bracts, leaf midrib and bunch stalks. 
  • Fruit are infected, causing blemishes. This increases as the fruit matures. 
  • Large areas of the fruit’s surface may become black due to dense spotting. 

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade’s Plant Biosecurity team is working with industry to support a small number of nurseries, commercial growers and rural property owners to manage this pest. 

The Northern Territory Government is also working with the Commonwealth, state and territory governments through the national response arrangements. 

The national technical committee, the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests will meet on Friday to consider the detection to determine response actions.

Banana freckle is an emergency plant pest. If you suspect plants may be affected, you must report it. You can do this by phoning the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881

More information is being provided at:

Quotes from the Northern Territory’s Chief Plant Health Officer, Dr Anne Walters: 

“The Northern Territory Government’s Plant Biosecurity team is currently investigating a confirmed case of banana freckle in the Batchelor – Rum Jungle region.

“Banana freckle is a serious threat to the industry. It decreases plant health and productivity by reducing the amount of healthy leaf area, and affects fruit quality and appearance, even though the fruit are still safe to eat.”

“We’re focused on safeguarding and growing our industries by carrying out investigations and additional surveillance to manage the threat this plant pest presents to the Territory.  

“Territorians may feel concerned that banana plants will need to be destroyed, we are not at this level of threat. Our focus at this point is surveillance and further advice on what we can do to protect the Territory’s industry will be made available in due course. 

“We’re asking Territorians, growers, nurseries and travellers across the NT to be on the lookout for signs of banana freckle, and to avoid moving plants and plant materials. 

“The Territory was declared Banana Freckle free in 2019, so it is vitally important that we work closely with growers and plant owners to determine the extent of the disease.

“We need the community’s support to assist in monitoring and reporting any suspect cases of banana freckle. If you are unsure about whether anything unusual on your banana trees, leaves, or fruit is banana freckle, please contact the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.”

Quotes from Northern Territory Farmers Association (NT Farmers) – CEO, Paul Burke:

“In any of these incursions it’s important we all work together. This is how we can get the best result.

“This is a plant disease but we can’t forget about the human element, that is – looking after our growers and their employees.

“NT Farmers will continue to engage strongly with the NT Government’s biosecurity branch to ensure we get the best result for the Territory.”

Quotes from Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC)– Research and Development Manager, Dr Rosie Godwin: 

“The industry will continue to work closely with the NT Government to assist in their swift response to the new detection and keep banana growers nationally well informed of any new developments. 

“At this stage we would remain hopeful that this new detection of Banana Freckle will be effectively contained in the remote location that it has been found and stress that it is early days. 

“However, given the impacts felt by the NT after this disease was first found in 2013 and the subsequent eradication program which followed, I can understand this is a stressful time, particularly for our growers located in the Top End. 

“I can assure our growers nationally that as their representative body we will be ensuring they are supported and kept well informed of activities that follow in the coming days and weeks.”