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21 September, 2021

A scientific approach to managing Panama TR4 in bananas

An independently commissioned review into Panama disease tropical race 4 (Panama TR4) in Far North Queensland has provided a list of research priorities to help guide industry to manage the disease in the long term.


Panama TR4 destruction zone

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Chief Biosecurity Officer Malcolm Letts, who chairs the Panama TR4 Program Management Board (Board), said the 2021 Panama TR4 Epidemiological Review (the Review) also confirmed the combined industry and government response to control and contain the disease had to date been highly effective.

“The Board will now progress investigations into the protocol for destroying diseased plants and alternative methods of detecting the disease,” Mr Letts said.

“We’ll also consider research to help us understand the relationships between environmental conditions, the host and pathogen.

Scientists conducting 2021 Panama TR4 Epidemiological Review

“With management of the disease transitioning to industry leadership in 2023, realistic and cost-effective solutions must now be sought for future control and containment efforts.

“For growers, the Review indicates how to limit the impact of a disease incursion through changes to agronomic practices.”

Tully-based grower and ABGC Chair Stephen Lowe said he hoped the Review will lead to future efficiencies that will continue the region’s legacy in containing the disease, but in a more cost-effective way.

“From now to mid-2023 we’ll need to identify ways in which we can continue to manage the disease with a smaller budget,” Mr Lowe said.

“It is imperative that we continue to have success in containing Panama TR4 to buy industry more time to find a commercially viable banana variety that is resistant to this disease, and to ensure the long-term future of our national industry.

“With 94 percent of Australia’s bananas grown in Far North Queensland, the $600 million industry provides significant employment opportunities and supports regional economies.

“Shared responsibility is key to ongoing success in the fight against Panama TR4.”

Co-author of the Review and Panama disease expert Dr Brett Summerell said Queensland’s efforts had been world-class in controlling and containing the disease.

Sick banana plant with Panama TR4

“Panama TR4 has caused devastation across the world’s banana growing regions,” Dr Summerell said.

“The Queensland effort has been huge, with a lot of investment by growers and government. This collaboration has resulted in Panama TR4 being successfully contained to just five properties in six years. 

“We’re very impressed by all parties who have played a role in managing the disease.”

Panama TR4 was first discovered in the heartland of Australia’s banana growing region of the Tully Valley in 2015.  The disease is non-eradicable and strong biosecurity measures as well as early detection are currently the most effective defence against an incursion.

An agreement between the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) will see the management of Panama TR4 transitioned to industry leadership from 1 July 2023.

For further information about Panama TR4 go to panamatr4protect.com.au, or follow Biosecurity Queensland on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@DAFQld).


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