Life on the land in Australia

Banana disease watch during Olwyn-Nathan cyclone sandwich mop-up

The Panama TR4 disease could have a devastating impact on the Queensland banana industry

The Panama TR4 disease could have a devastating impact on the Queensland banana industry

West Australia’s banana supplies and crops, levelled by tropical cyclone Olwyn last week, will be monitored by the state’s food and farm watchdog for the crippling Panama disease which quarantined a north Queensland grower.

WA Department of Agriculture and Food plant biosecurity director John van Schagen told Fairfax Media on Monday the Panama disease, discovered in the Northern Territory in 1997 and where it has established, had not spread to WA crops.

“Western Australia is currently free of the [Panama] disease,” Mr van Schagen said.

He said all vegetable and fruit stocks imported to WA were quarantine checked to prevent the introduction of new pests and disease.

“Inspection of bananas for pests and disease will continue to be undertaken,” he said.

“If pests and diseases are present then the consignment will be treated, re-exported or destroyed.”

However, the all clear from the department seemed a small consolidation for growers who were counting the cost of Olwyn’s impact.

“Yeah, it’s pretty ugly to say the least,” Carnarvon’s Sweeter Bananas Co-operative chairman Chris Collins told 6PR’s Breakfast show on Monday

“It’s a bit surreal at the minute. We’re slowly coming to terms with it. There’s a whole different outlook up here at the moment.”

Mr Collins anticipated supply of WA bananas would be impacted by the damage caused category three cyclone but believed prices would not rise.

“I don’t think it will have a huge impact on banana prices – banana prices are dictated by Queensland, the volumes they grow,” he said.

“The only thing is that people in Perth won’t be able to eat a Carnarvon banana for about 10 months.”

Mr Collins said crops were being inspected and would take between 12 and 14 months to bear fruit.

“If we nurse some of the patches back to life we could be picking in about 10 months,” he said.

“We can freeze the bananas so we will be able to keep up with the banana bread for a while, it just depends on how much fruit we can salvage.”

As growers salvage or replant, to protect the local banana industry from the disease, fruit grown or packed within 50 kilometres of a Panama outbreak and sent to the Carnavon or Kununurra regions were monitored for soild or plant debris, he said.

“Banana fruit itself does not carry or spread the disease,” he said.

Mr van Schagen said inspectors would monitor Carnavon and Kununurra wholesale and retail premises to ensure compliance with the intrastate movement requirements.

“Failure to comply risks fines of up to $20,000 under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act,” he said.

Fairfax Media has contacted the Australian Banana Growers’ Council for comment.


Henry Sapiecha

March 16th, 2015

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