Katelyn Ferro

Katelyn Ferro

After finishing an Ag Science degree at the University of Queensland’s Gatton campus, Katie made the move to Far North Queensland, accepting a research horticulturist role at South Johnstone with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Over the past three years, working with the banana research and development team, Katie’s main focus has been research into Panama disease. 
Katie is currently working in banana variety research, assessing the post-harvest characteristics of fruit from the Goldfinger mutagenesis trial. This work is aimed at finding a commercially viable banana variety that has resistance to Panama disease tropical race 4.
We asked Katie what is the most exciting part of her research and what she enjoys the most. “I’ve come to realise how unique banana plants are compared to most other crops and, although often frustrating, I like the challenge this presents and the problem solving required to develop research methods tailored to its individuality. I really enjoy working on impactful projects where the outcome of the research could benefit Australian banana growers.”
Katie’s childhood was spent in Delaneys Creek in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, but lived in Brisbane for all her schooling years. Her love for the outdoors sees her hiking North Queensland’s beautiful national parks. Katie is also keen to learn new skills and is currently learning how to play electric guitar and speak Danish. Her favourite banana recipe is Banana ice-cream, made from frozen banana that is blended until creamy.  

Research Horticulturist
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Centre for Wet Tropics Agriculture, South Johnstone, Qld

Agronomic evaluation of new varieties – South Johnstone

Latest update...

Harvesting in the trial commenced with Williams in mid-May 2019 – less than 8 months after planting! As of 5 July we have already cut about one quarter of the trial. However, several varieties are much slower in development so we expect the plant crop harvest will continue till about November.

All of the Taiwanese Cavendish selections are typically 1-4 months slower than Williams in the first crop. This in addition to sometimes smaller bunches will lead to lower productivity per unit time. Good reason to remain vigilant with biosecurity to keep TR4 off your property.

Bunches of the Rahan Meristem Cavendish selections have been impressive, being characterised by heavy bunches, long fruit, and good hand separation in the bunch which should help minimise fingertip scarring.

The dwarf selections of Cavendish – Brier and Dwarf Cavendish have yielded well with substantially shorter fruit than Williams. Several of the Taiwanese varieties also have shorter fruit. Depending on the time of year fruit are harvested this could be an advantage or a disadvantage in achieving more fruit in the desired size range for the market compared to Williams. 

The CIRAD hybrids are 50 cm or more taller than Williams in the plant crop; leaf petioles seem quite brittle and under wind often snapping off; fruit of the 4 hybrids have been tasted by staff at South Johnstone – CIRAD’s 03 & 05 were particularly liked whilst 04 and 06 were probably too fragrant. 

High incidence of tissue culture offtypes have been an issue for 3 varieties necessitating repeat evaluation in the future where true-to-type plants are available to propagate from.

About the trial

Growers are keeping a keen eye on the 32 varieties included in the latest agronomic evaluation at South Johnstone. This is the first step at looking at new introductions that may have commercial potential for the Australian banana industry. 

This research forms a significant part of the Improved Plant Protection for the Banana Industry Program (BA16001), looking at the agronomic traits as well as pest and disease tolerance of imported varieties. This project provides for 3 variety assessment trials across Australia at Duranbah (NSW), South Johnstone (Qld) and Coastal Plains (NT), assessing resistance to Panama disease Race 1 and TR4, agronomic performance, cold tolerance and yellow Sigatoka resistance. 

Several of the varieties included in the current South Johnstone trial are also being screened in the Northern Territory to determine or confirm resistance to TR4.

Varieties included in the current evaluation trial were planted in September 2018. Assessment of agronomic traits will be collected over three crop cycles and a yellow Sigatoka leaf spot screening in the fourth cycle. Several new varieties that have shown resistance to TR4 overseas are included in the evaluation. 

Tissue culture plants were established in September 2018. The trial block at South Johnstone Research Facility includes 11 single rows (120 m long) with guard plants.
Trial four months after planting in January 2019

Varieties being evaluated

  • A suite of Taiwanese selections of Cavendish present in Australia. Also included is a selection made in Australia from a former introduction. 
  • Agro-biotechnology company Rahan Meristem imported four of their elite Cavendish selections into Australia from Israel— Gal, Jaffa and two selections of Adi. The main features include reduced plant stature and large well-structured bunches. These selections are proving popular in various export production zones around the globe. However, these selections are not claimed to have any resistance to Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4). North Queensland producers that have seen them growing overseas have been keen to see them evaluated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) for some time. Rahan Meristem own these varieties and have agreed that results from our evaluations can be made publicly available. 
  • Four hybrids from the breeding program of CIRAD in the French West Indies. Overseas these have shown resistance to leaf disease and Panama disease race 1. We are all eager to see how they fare against TR4 in the Northern Territory trials.
  • Two Cavendish selections from the Canary Islands. These selections of Dwarf Cavendish form the basis of their 400,000 t/yr. export industry to mainland Europe.
  • A new dwarf Lady Finger selection.

A list of varieties being evaluated is now available.

Trial 7 months after planting

Preliminary trial observations

Harvesting in the trial commenced with Williams in mid-May 2019 — less than 8 months after planting! As of 5 July we have already cut about one quarter of the trial. However, several varieties are much slower in development so we expect the plant crop harvest will continue till about November.

All of the Taiwanese Cavendish selections are typically 1–4 months slower than Williams in the first crop. This in addition to sometimes smaller bunches will lead to lower productivity per unit time. Good reason to remain vigilant with biosecurity to keep Panama disease tropical race 4 off your property.

Bunches of the Rahan Meristem Cavendish selections have been impressive, being characterised by heavy bunches, long fruit, and good hand separation in the bunch which should help minimise fingertip scarring.

The dwarf selections of Cavendish — Brier and Dwarf Cavendish have yielded well with substantially shorter fruit than Williams. Several of the Taiwanese varieties also have shorter fruit. Depending on the time of year fruit are harvested this could be an advantage or a disadvantage in achieving more fruit in the desired size range for the market compared to Williams. 

The CIRAD hybrids are 50 cm or more taller than Williams in the plant crop; leaf petioles seem quite brittle and under wind often snapping off; fruit of the four hybrids have been tasted by staff at South Johnstone – CIRAD’s 03 & 05 were particularly liked whilst 04 and 06 were probably too fragrant. 

High incidence of tissue culture offtypes have been an issue for 3 varieties necessitating repeat evaluation in the future where true-to-type plants are available to propagate from.

These dwarf selections of Cavendish are 20% shorter than Williams in the plant crop
Panama disease TR4 resistant Cavendish selections from Taiwan
Rahan Meristem selections like 'Jaffa' are performing well
Some of the leaf disease resistant CIRAD hybrids, including CIRAD 03 pictured, have been well received by DAF staff at informal tasting sessions

Growers will be given an opportunity periodically to come and see the varieties for themselves. Over 50 participants attended the latest field walk held in June 2019.

Jeff Daniells from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries giving a tour of the variety evaluation trial block on the South Johnstone Research Facility in June 2019.

More info...

Varieties included in the trial

This research has been funded as part of the Improved Plant Protection for the Banana Industry Program (BA16001), 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.

Meet a researcher — Jeff Daniells

Jeff Daniells

Jeff has been working with bananas for the past 37 years as a research horticulturist with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries based at South Johnstone. He is passionate about bananas and currently works on a number of important industry projects looking at disease resistance and agronomics of alternative varieties — particularly those varieties which have some tolerance to Panama disease tropical race 4. 
Growing up in Brisbane Jeff completed his Master’s degree at the University of Queensland and has always had a hands-on approach to learning about bananas. In fact, prior to starting his career, he meticulously kept harvest data (weights, hands and finger numbers) for a stool of Lady Fingers in parent’s backyard. Some call this destiny!
Jeff enjoys Saba (Pisang Gajih Merah) bananas boiled in the jacket served with meat and vegetables and in his spare time enjoys fishing and playing tennis with friends and family.
 

Principal Horticulturist
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Centre for Wet Tropics Agriculture, South Johnstone, Qld

Trial layout for innovation trial

Trial layout

In order to fairly compare any treatment, a comparison needs to be made to a current or conventional practice, which is known as a control treatment. In this innovation trial, the control treatment is bare plots where herbicide is applied to control weeds as per normal farm practice. To account for any variation in factors such as sunlight or minor differences in soil characteristics, the trial treatments are blocked and randomised. In this trial each of the three double rows is a block and the 5 treatment plots are randomly assigned to different positions down each row. See figure below.

Example of innovation trial layout showing three blocks each with randomised ground cover treatment plots.

Within each treatment plot there are:

  • 22 plants which measurements will be taken on — these are known as datum plants.
  • 4 guard plants — which as the name suggests are a buffer between each of the treatment plots.

 

Example of a treatment plot showing number of datum and guard plants.

Good trial design allows for a fair comparison of treatments. For information on trial design, check out the How to conduct your own research fact sheet.

Innovation field trials

Latest update...

The trial planted in early November 2017 has now started to bunch. Bell emergence commenced in week 14 and assessments are currently underway.

Photo showing first bell emergence at week 14.

Innovation field trials

An exciting component of the industry’s National Banana Development and Extension Program is to apply different practices to banana plants which growers may not be willing to, or have the time to try on their own farms. 

Established in November 2017 at the South Johnstone Research Station, the innovation trial consists of 390 Williams Cavendish tissue culture plants, planted as a double row configuration. Agronomic assessments, such as plant height, leaf emergence and bunch characteristics are being undertaken to help understand how different treatments affect the crop. 
Click here for more information on the trial layout

Ground cover treatments

The first of these treatments commenced at the beginning of November 2017, looking at some ‘out of the box’ ground cover management options for the bed.
The following images show the different ground cover treatments in the trial. These will be compared to bare plots with no ground cover. These photos were taken approximately 1 month after planting in December 2017.
Pinto peanut treatment
Chemical stabiliser treatment
Mint treatment
Weed matting treatment

 

Some initial observations from the ground cover trial have shown that plants planted into the black weed matting, appear to be shorter on average than the other treatments. However, there is no difference in average leaf emergence between the plants in the weed matting and other treatments.

Innovation trial block 1 month after planting (December 2017)
Innovation trial block 5 months after planting (April 2018)

Timing of desuckering

Other trial work underway is looking into two different timings for desuckering. Half the plants have had their first flush of suckers removed once there was at least 3 suckers 30 cm tall, at approximately 3 months after planting. The other half of the plants will be desuckered closer to bunch emergence.  

Plant with first flush of suckers removed at approximately 3 months after planting.
Plant with first flush of suckers intact.

Check back here for updates on the trial. 

Have an idea for an innovation trial...

We appreciate grower’s knowledge and experience of banana production systems and are keen to seek feedback and advice on our trial work. We therefore encourage all growers who can contribute to our current trial work or have ideas on new innovative practices to contact our team: betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au or phone 13 25 23.

This work is funded as part of the National Banana Development and Extension Program (BA16007). This project has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the  banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Queensland 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.

Reducing inoculum – field trials

Field trials - reducing inoculum

The use of high rates of urea to reduce disease inoculum levels of plants infected with Panama disease has been investigated. Researchers have looked at the effect of applying urea to both the soil surface surrounding infected plants as well as infected pseudostems.

Two field trials conducted at Duranbah in New South Wales used a site infested with Panama disease race 1. In the first field trial, Dwarf Ducasse plants showing symptoms of Panama disease race 1 were cut off at ground level. The growing point was then gouged out and a 1 m2 area was treated around each plant.  All gouged corms were treated with 200 g of urea and the 1 m2 areas around the plants were treated with either:

  • urea (1 kg/m2) and covered with black plastic
  • urea (1 kg/m2), watered in (10 L) and covered with black plastic
  • urea (1 kg/m2), Basamid® (500 g/m2), watered in (10 L) and covered with black plastic
  • plastic only
  • untreated.

Soil samples were taken from the treatment areas 6 and 15 days after the treatments were applied. The soil was analysed to determine the ammonium content in surface (0-5 cm) and subsurface (5-15 cm) soil and the populations of Fusarium oxysporum in the subsurface samples (5-15 cm). 

Trial showing 1 m2 plots covered with black plastic.
Black plastic used to prevent runoff and contain breakdown gasses.

So what happened under these treatments?

As expected the ammonium levels were significantly greater in the soil treated with urea. As a result the number of Fusarium oxysporum spores in the soil (including the strain that causes Panama disease race 1) measured by the number of colony forming units (cfu) was significantly reduced. 

The table below shows the levels of ammonium (ppm) in the soil 6 and 15 days after treatment application. 

Means in each column with the same letter are not significantly different at 5% level (P<0.001). For example at 15 days after treatment at surface depth (0-5 cm) there was no significant difference between untreated and plastic. However, there was a significant difference between urea and all the other treatments (15 days at surface depth 0-5 cm).

Table showing ammonium levels in the soil 6 and 15 days after treatment application.

The graph below shows the significant reduction in cfu under the urea treatments. 

Levels of Panama disease race 1 in the soil measured 6 and 15 days after treatment application.

The second field trial investigated the method of cutting up infected pseudostem material and placing it into bags with urea. To test this technique Dwarf Ducasse plants infected with Panama disease race 1 were cut into 15 cm length and placed inside heavy duty plastic garbage bags. Some of the bags included 1 kg of urea and some bags contained no urea. After 6 weeks pieces of vascular tissue were plated out to determine the survival of the fungus. There was no recovery of the fungus that causes race 1 in any of the bags which were treated with urea. There was some reduction in survival of the fungus in the untreated bags, but the pathogen was still recovered.  

Bags of infected pseudostem. Bags either contained urea or had no urea.
Close-up of infected pseudostem treated with urea.

So what does this all mean...

These field trials confirm that the current method for dealing with infected plants does significantly reduce the amount of inoculum in banana paddocks infested with Panama disease.

For more information about this work contact the better bananas team: 
betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au or 13 25 23.

This trial was funded as part of Biosecurity Queensland’s Panama TR4 Program and the Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 – Biosecurity and Sustainable Practices project (BA14013). This project (BA14013) was funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Queensland 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.

Reducing inoculum – Lab trials

Lab trials - reducing inoculum

To reduce disease inoculum levels, researchers have investigated the practice of using high rates of urea on the soil surface immediately surrounding infected plants.

Lab trials at South Johnstone used a soil bioassay with spores of Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc), the fungus that causes Panama disease race 1. This was used as surrogate for tropical race 4. The inoculated soil was treated with one of the following treatments:
  • ‘control’ – no urea or lime treatment
  • urea (rate equal to 0.5 kg/m2)
  • lime (rate equal to 0.5 kg/m2)
  • both lime and urea (rate equal to 0.5 kg/m2).

Interestingly, Foc was not recovered from soil that was treated with urea and the urea/lime combination. Foc was however recovered from soil treated with lime only, proving the application of lime on its own as ineffective at reducing inoculum levels.

Back: Jars of inoculated soil with different treatments. Front: Samples showing fungal development of control (far left) and lime (third from left) treatment.
Results of lab trials showing recovery of Foc from control and lime treatments, while no recovery of Foc was observed for the urea and urea and lime treatments.

Outcomes...

Lab trial results have shown that both urea and the combination of urea and lime at the specified rates are effective at killing the spores that cause Panama disease race 1.

Further lab investigations

Further trial work has evaluated the effectiveness of lower application rates of urea as well as chemical alternatives that are suggested to be toxic to Foc. The same bioassay using soil in jars was used to determine the effectiveness of the following treatments:
  • potassium chlorate @ 4, 8 and 16% (w/v)
  • sodium nitrite at 200, 400 and 800 ppm
  • nitrite at 200 and 400 ppm
  • lower rates of urea (rate equal to 0.031, 0.062, 0.125, 0.25 and 0.5 kg/m2). 

These investigations showed that urea applied at 0.062 kg/m2 or greater prevented Foc recovery from soil. All the other chemical alternatives were not effective at reducing the recovery rate of Foc

Results of lab trials showing urea applied at greater than 0.062 kg/m2 was the only effective treatment in preventing Foc recovery from soil.

Additional trials have investigated the effectiveness of different urea rates (between 0.031 and 0.062 kg/m2) and further explored alternative sources of ammonium. This time the effect of urea, ammonium nitrate + potassium hydroxide and aqueous ammonia were assessed. The trial showed that ammonia (NH3) from any source that produces a concentration equal to or above 2500 ppm was effective at preventing Foc from being recovered from the soil.

So what does this all mean?

These lab trials show the current methods for dealing with infected plants using urea (1 kg per square metre) would significantly help in reducing the amount of inoculum in infested banana paddocks. The trials further show that ammonia, rather than other gasses produced during the breakdown of urea, is likely to be responsible for the toxic effect on the fungus.

For more information about this work contact our better bananas team on 13 25 23 or email: betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au

This trial was funded as part the Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 – Biosecurity and Sustainable Practices (BA14013) project, which was funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Queensland 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.

Reducing inoculum from plants infected with Panama disease

Reducing inoculum from plants infected with Panama disease

A key aspect of managing Panama disease tropical race 4 on an infested property, is the implementation of practices to reduce the amount of inoculum (number of spores) entering the soil. The management of infected plants via a careful and thorough destruction protocol is one of the most crucial of these practices. 

The current method requires infected plants to be cut up and placed into large plastic bags with 1 kg of urea to accelerate the breakdown of the fungus and plant tissue. Urea is then evenly applied to the soil surface at a rate of 1 kg per square metre around the infected stools, and 200 g of urea is also applied to each gouged corm. The entire treated area is then covered with heavy plastic to prevent runoff and to contain the breakdown gasses which help kill the fungus. 

Lab and field trials conducted to validate this method, have showed the application of urea at this rate can significantly reduce inoculum levels. 

See below for details of the lab and field trials:

Due to strict biosecurity conditions this research has been conducted using Panama disease race 1 as a surrogate for Panama disease tropical race 4.

Black plastic in field trial, used to prevent runoff and contain breakdown gasses (Duranbah, New South Wales).
Urea application to ground around infected plants and to gouged corm (Duranbah, New South Wales).

Please note...

Due to the extremely high rates of urea used for this technique, the strategy is ONLY utilised to treat confirmed detections of Panama disease on properties where a Notice of presence of Panama disease tropical race 4 is in effect.

Best management practices

Two complementary guidelines for best management practices (BMP) are now available to the Australian banana industry. These BMPs provide national guidelines to encourage continuous improvement and adoption of best practice in the banana industry. Both BMPs consist of a self-assessment checklist and corresponding information resources. 

Best management practices: Environmental guidelines

This guide reflects the structure of the Freshcare Environmental code of practice, while providing specific banana industry content and best practice. The voluntary guideline provides a single point of reference for information relevant to environmental practices. Some of the practices have benefits that go beyond environmental interests and are practices that could potentially improve productivity and profitability.

The online system for this BMP allows you to electronically select the environmental practices that you have in place which will then:

  • automatically generate a management plan (which can be used for some environmental auditing systems). 
  • allow you to action this management plan (e.g. assign budget and responsibilities to improve practices).
  • allow you to anonymously compare your practices to moving industry benchmarks.

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Did you know...

The banana industry’s ‘Better Bunch’  app is a time-saving device to assist growers to record their everyday farm practices to complement their BMP. If you complete your BMP on-line, you are currently able to access the app for free. 

Best management practices: On-farm biosecurity

The Australian banana industry is vulnerable to pests and diseases. This best management practice (BMP) guideline can help growers implement effective on-farm biosecurity practices. It was developed following the detection of Panama disease tropical race 4 in Far North Queensland in 2015. It includes examples of on-farm biosecurity practices that are not only relevant to Panama disease but also minimises the risk of introducing other new pests, diseases and weeds onto your property. 

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Work is in progress to develop a similar online system to the BMP: Environmental guidelines, so keep an eye out for updates as it is developed. 

For more information on these BMP guidelines contact the better bananas team – betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au or 13 25 23. 
BMP: Environmental guidelines – The project was funded as part of Reefocus Extension, a Queensland Government Reef Plan initiative, working with growers to increase farm productivity and profitability and improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef. This project was funded as part of the Developing a best management practices guideline for the Australian banana industry project (BA11006). This project was funded by Hort Innovation using the banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and contributions from the Australian Government. 
BMP: On-farm biosecurity –This resource was developed as part of the Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 – Biosecurity and Sustainable Solutions project (BA14013). This project was funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy, with co-investment from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and funds from the Australian Government.
Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.