Why biosecurity is so important for banana businesses

The 2001 incursion of Black Sigatoka and the 2015 incursion of Panama disease tropical race 4 (Panama disease TR4) in the Tully Valley certainly highlight the importance of biosecurity. Unfortunately, unlike Black Sigatoka, Panama disease TR4 cannot be eradicated. As of October 2021, the response over the past six and a half years has successfully limited it’s spread to five commercial banana farms in the Tully Valley. However, it will continue to spread and there is a real risk it could potentially infest other production regions within Far North Queensland and Australia. If you want to sustain a successful banana business into the future, having effective biosecurity practices on your farm has never been more important.

The devastating impact of Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4) on a Cavendish plantation in the Philippines. Panama disease TR4 was first detected in Australia near Darwin in 1997 and has since been detected in Far North Queensland in the Tully Valley in 2015. Unfortunately, the disease cannot be eradicated.

So why are bananas so vulnerable and what can we do to protect our banana industry and the fruit that we love to eat? Accounting for 97% of the Australian market, the seedless fruit of the commercial Cavendish banana are sterile and are dependent on clonal propagation from bits, suckers or tissue culture. Growing large monoculture plantations with limited genetic diversity makes them extremely vulnerable to the impact of pests and diseases.    

For decades, breeding programs around the world have invested significant time and resources to find a commercially viable Cavendish variety, comparable to Williams Cavendish, that is resistant to Panama disease TR4. Unfortunately, bananas are very difficult to breed and the search for this ‘holy grail’ continues. This is why on-farm biosecurity is so important! Currently there are no varieties in Australia or the world, resistant to Panama disease TR4 or leaf spot, that can match the productivity of Williams Cavendish.  It may be some time before this is achieved, so why not do everything in your power, to protect what you have now.

The photos on this page show the devastating impact of serious banana plant diseases overseas, where biosecurity is limited. These are just a few examples of serious diseases, either already present in production regions of Australia or on our country’s doorstep, that pose a risk to our commercial banana industry. 

Severe banana freckle (Phyllosticta cavendishii) infestation in a Cavendish banana plantation in Indonesia. In 2013 Banana freckle (Phyllosticta cavendishii) was detected in the Northern Territory. A national response to the outbreak resulted in its successful eradication, with Northern Territory declared Banana freckle free on 1 February 2019.
Black Sigatoka streaks and lesions on banana leaf. Mature leaf symptoms of black Sigatoka are similar to those caused by yellow Sigatoka. The impact of black Sigatoka is through the early death of leaves reducing yield and green life of fruit. There have been several outbreaks of black Sigatoka in Australia, all of which have been successfully eradicated. Australia has been declared free of the disease since 2005.

Assistance is available

If you need help to get started with your on-farm biosecurity or would like assistance to improve on existing practices contact the National Banana Development and Extension Team via email betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au or phone 07 4220 4152.

This resource has been developed as part of the National Banana Development and Extension Program ( BA19004) which is funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.