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AU: North Qld banana farmers warned of fungus

Experts are warning north Queensland banana farmers of the dangers a virulent fungus poses to the industry.

Different strains of Panama disease, a fungus which affects the roots of banana plants, have already been discovered in Australia and have the potential to make entire farms unproductive.

Panama disease expert Dr Gus Molina, of Bioversity International, said it was possible to prevent the spread of the tropical race 4 strain, which affects Cavendish bananas - the most common variety grown in Australia.

The strain was discovered in the Northern Territory in the 1990s, but has not been found in the banana growing regions of NSW, Queensland and WA.

Dr Molina said the key to containing the fungus was vigilance.

"It's a matter of making sure the disease from the Northern Territory does not make it into north Queensland, where the main banana industry is," he told AAP on Thursday.

"Farmers can make sure that no planting materials have come from the affected regions of the NT, but Australia's quarantine measures are quite strong."

Meanwhile, Dr Tony Pattison of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says his research has uncovered ways to mitigate the impacts of Panama disease race 1, which affects smaller banana varieties like Lady Finger and Ducasse.

"We've found that growing native grasses and vegetation around banana plants can lead to a suppression of the disease," he said.

"It could mean that two thirds of the fruit of an affected plant could make it to market, rather than less than a third, which is currently the case."

Earlier this week, the Northern Territory government lifted its quarantines on properties previously infected by tropical race 4, but prohibitions against the movement of soil and plants from the area remain in place.


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