A new state-of-the art quarantine facility is fast-tracking imports of improved banana varieties in the race to save Australia's $600 million industry. Queensland produces 95 per cent of the nation's bananas, but a devastating wilting disease in the heart of the biggest growing region is threatening its future. Panama disease Tropical Race 4, which decimated the Northern Territory's banana industry, is a soil borne pathogen which cannot be eradicated.
It is now present on four farms in the heart of Australia's banana growing territory in the Tully region and millions of dollars are being spent to control and contain it.
The Queensland Government's investment of $287,547 in a new quarantine facility on the Sunshine Coast is speeding up the process of importing cultivars that show resistance to the disease.
Senior Principal Scientist Sharon Hamill designed the new facility, which is secured with double locked doors at its entry and state-of-the-art air filters to prevent any potential spores or pathogens leaving the building. But Ms Hamill said the upgrade had increased its capacity to screen banana tissue cultivars, by up to 10 times.
"What this means is there are no bottlenecks when we start to get these cultivars into Australia, and we can process them as fast as possible," Ms Hamill said. "If there are plants identified that are really important for Australia, there'll be no problem with us bringing them into this facility, no delay and that's the most important thing."
The scientists work with banana breeders around the world. Some cultivars have already showed promise to resisting Panama disease Tropical race 4, but more work needed to be done to improve their productivity.
Queensland Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries minister Mark Furner said the new facility was designed to safeguard the banana industry.
"Safely importing banana tissue culture plantlets to find a variety that is resistant to Panama disease Tropical Race 4, is vital to the ongoing and long-term sustainability of Australia's $600 million industry," Mr Furner said.