Quarantine talks end

Disease fight priority for Australian banana industry

The containment of a devastating banana-plant disease and the development of disease-tolerant plants have become the Australian banana industry’s top priorities after the Northern Territory Government advised its previous quarantine restrictions were not working.

The banana industry’s peak body, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC), said the industry must now take action to stop the spread of the soil-borne fungal disease Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4) from the Northern Territory to banana growing regions in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. Action also had to be taken to accelerate the development of banana plants tolerant to TR4.

ABGC President Doug Phillips and Chief Executive Officer Jim Pekin concluded a round of urgent talks in the Northern Territory on Friday after the government on July 25 unexpectedly announced the immediate lifting of quarantine restrictions on properties infected with TR4.

Mr Phillips said meetings had been held with the Northern Territory’s Agriculture Minister Kon Vatskalis, Opposition Agriculture Spokesperson Kezia Purick, officers from the Department of Resources and Northern Territory horticulture industry representatives.

He said there was no interest within the Northern Territory for the reinstatement of the previous quarantine restrictions or for alternative quarantine arrangements. “TR4 has devastated Northern Territory banana growing to the point that there is only one commercial plantation left,” Mr Phillips said. “The immediate issue is to reduce the risk of the spread of TR4 across the Northern Territory’s borders. TR4 has destroyed the industry in those parts of many countries where it entered the soil and no one wants it to spread to Queensland or other States.”

The ABGC would be seeking a collaborative, national approach to the fight against the spread of TR4. Mr Phillips said that for the longer term, the ABGC would also be seeking to ensure that the industry’s research and development program increases its focus on developing TR4-tolerant banana varieties.

“Both the Territory’s Agriculture Minister and the Shadow Minister promised NT Government funds to support the industry in variety development research.”
Once TR4 enters the soil it cannot be eradicated. It spreads through the movement of infected soil and planting material. Mr Phillips said it was essential no banana plants be moved interstate from the Northern Territory. Although there is only one plantation there, bananas are grown in backyards and in regional communities. It was also essential no soil be moved from infected farms on vehicles, equipment, produce or pallets, or on the clothing or footwear of those who have visited
NT farms. The Northern Territory is the only place in Australia where TR4 has been detected. It is carried in soil and does not affect produce.

For more information:
Rhyll Cronin
Tel: +61 07 3278 4786
Mob: +61 0428 038 330

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