New extension team hit the road

It’s certainly going to be a busy time for the team working on the new five-year National Banana Development and Extension Program (BA19004) which commenced in June this year. This project is funded by the banana research and development levy, with co-investment from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and contributions from the Australian Government. Building on the achievements of previous extension projects, it seeks to continue to help build capacity within industry, giving growers the best possible opportunity to make informed positive changes to their businesses. 

The team is about to hit the road visiting banana farms, with a renewed focus on one-on-one grower contact.  This will give the team a greater understanding of the current needs and issues of growers as well as identifying any opportunities for assistance specific to their farm.

The project will continue to deliver information on the latest banana research and development through events such as the National Banana Roadshows, field days/workshops, Better Bananas website, the Australian Banana Congress, and other special events. The extension team is taking a flexible approach to dealing with COVID-19. Some activities may be delayed or modified in the short-term, for example linking interstate researchers into workshops via webinar. The main aim is to continue the momentum of the National Banana Development and Extension Program. 

Keep an eye out for future extension opportunities, such as the banana variety field walks previously held at South Johnstone Research Facility

This also includes exciting collaborative initiatives such as continuing to support NextGen, the industry’s young grower groups. NextGen groups in both Queensland and New South Wales are open to young growers or for those ‘young at heart’, who are willing to contribute and share with other group members. The team is looking forward to future NextGen activities, which have previously involved visiting businesses from other industries and in other regions, with a focus on innovation and technology. 

The extension team will also be keeping an eye out for any opportunities to work closely with growers doing small on-farm innovation trials. These will be regionally focused and selected based on industry priorities.

The team has some new and familiar faces to industry. Tegan Kukulies from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) leads the project and is currently on maternity leave. Sue Heisswolf (DAF) is acting in Tegan’s role while she is on leave, supporting the team with project management activities. Sue is a Principal Horticulturlist with the Department and is a great addition to the team, having a lot of experience in delivering extension services to horticultural industries.

Other project members include Stewart Lindsay (DAF), Shanara Veivers (DAF) and Ingrid Jenkins (DAF) who are all based at the South Johnstone Research Facility in Far North Queensland, and Tom Flanagan from New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. Tom is based at Wollongbar and is the main contact for New South Wales growers.

Meet the new National banana development and extension team

Contact us!

We encourage all growers to get in touch for more information on project activities or to arrange a visit with the extension team.

Contact us:

Email: betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au
Phone: (07) 4220 4177 (South Johnstone team)
Phone: (02) 6626 1352 (Tom Flanagan – Subtropical enquiries)

This National Banana and Development Extension Program (BA19004) has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian Horticulture. 
The project works in close collaboration and is supported by the Australian Banana Growers’ Association (ABGC).

Postharvest

Postharvest research and development

Postharvest research plays an important part in guaranteeing that Australian’s keep enjoying great quality bananas. A lot of time and effort goes into producing each and every bunch. Therefore, having correct postharvest processes in place for handling, storing and ripening fruit is essential to get the best quality fruit onto retail shelves and to maximise the fruit’s value back to growers.

Research looking into postharvest processes on-farm, as well as within the supply chain, has gone a long way in understanding and addressing some important quality issues. The links below provide more information on recent postharvest research.

If you have a postharvest issue that you would like to discuss or would like further information, contact the Better Bananas team at betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au.

Results for Lady Finger fruit rejects

Results for Lady Finger fruit rejects

Subtropical banana reject analysis

The following are the results for reject Lady Finger fruit assessed as part of the Subtropical Banana Reject Analysis. The figure below shows the proportion of reject fruit that fell within each of the defect categories. As can be seen, pre-harvest physical defects were responsible for the rejection of 83% of all Lady Finger fruit assessed. Pest and disease defects accounted for 10%, whilst post-harvest defects were the cause of 7% of reject fruit. As was the case with results from the Cavendish assessment, pre-harvest defects again offers the greatest opportunity for improving fruit quality and reducing the number of rejected fruit. 

Proportion of Lady Finger fruit rejects that fall within the three defect categories

Let’s take a closer look at the defect types resulting in the rejection of Lady Finger bananas.  The graph below shows the 15 most prevalent defect types resulting in rejection of Lady Finger bananas. In descending order from left to right they account for almost 90% of all reject fruit for this variety. Again, there are several defects that cannot be prevented or doing so would require too much time and resources to make it financially beneficial. For example, misshapen fruit and doubles or fused fruit cannot be prevented to a large degree as they are caused by factors beyond our control. However, animal damage, rub, pruning damage and damage caused by bunch pests are issues that could addressed through changes to on-farm practices.

Proportion of defect types contributing to Lady Finger fruit rejects across all three defect categories
Animal damage was one of the largest causes of fruit rejection, contributing significantly to the total number of defects found for both Lady Finger and Cavendish fruit
The image provides an example of misshapen Lady Finger fruit evaluated in the study
The damage caused by Rust Thrips can be significant, highlighting the importance of having effective management strategies in place to manage this bunch pest

It is worth noting that misshapen fruit occurs more commonly in Lady Finger than Cavendish due to varietal differences in fruit development. However, it is believed that the dry conditions experienced across the NSW growing regions during the study  significantly worsened the problem, contributing to the high proportion of rejects resulting from misshapen fruit. Further reject analyses under ‘normal’ growing conditions or over a longer period would need to be undertaken to confirm this result.

The aim of this reject analysis study was to identify the predominant causes for rejection of fruit by growers within our subtropical banana growing regions. With a better understanding it will now allow resources to be best prioritised to address, demonstrate &/or trial innovative practices to reduce these defects. Overall reducing the quantity of fruit rejected through the implementation of cost effective practices will increase profitability. 

A poster is now available showing common quality issues and packing guidelines for subtropical banana growers. To receive a hard copy or for more information contact NSW DPI Industry Development Officer Tom Flanagan on (02) 6626 1352 or email tom.flanagan@dpi.nsw.gov.au 

NSW DPI would like to acknowledge all growers who agreed to participate in the study, Matt Weinert, Leanne Davis from NSW DPI and Valerie Shrubb from AGRIC for undertaking the research. 
This research has been funded as part of the Subtropical Banana Development and Extension Program (BA16007), which is funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy and co-investment from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.

Results for Cavendish rejects

Results for Cavendish fruit rejects

Subtropical banana reject analysis

The following are the results for reject Cavendish fruit, assessed as part of the Subtropical Banana Reject Analysis. The figure below shows the proportion of reject Cavendish fruit that fell into each of the three defect categories. As you can see 62% of all reject Cavendish fruit was due to pre-harvest physical defects. This was a far greater percentage than either post-harvest defects (27%) or pest and disease defects (11%). This gives us a good indication where the majority of the damage is occurring and highlights an opportunity for growers to greatly reduce rejects by addressing pre-harvest physical defects.

Proportion of Cavendish fruit rejects that fall within the three reject categories

Although this chart provides us with a start, it does not give us the most complete picture. It does not tell us which specific defect types are causing the most rejects or where best to focus efforts to reduce the number of reject fruit. Taking a closer look, the graph below shows the 15 most common defect types in descending order from left to right across all three defect categories, which accounted for 90% of all reject Cavendish fruit in the study. 

Proportion of defect types contributing to Cavendish fruit rejects across all three defect categories
Bruising of fruit is mainly caused through poor post-harvest handling and was one of the most common reasons for the rejection of fruit by growers
Damage caused by the rubbing of fruit against bags, bracts or other fruit accounted for a large proportion of the rejected fruit assessed in the study

It must be noted that the high proportion of rejects resulting from misshapen fruit is believed to be associated with the dry conditions experienced across the NSW growing regions during the study.  Further reject analyses under ‘normal’ growing conditions or over a longer period would need to be undertaken to confirm this result.

Within this list there are some defect types that can be relatively easily improved with changes to pre or post-harvest practices, such as bruising and de-handing damage. Some other defects such as misshapen fruit, fused fruit and November dumps are caused or attributed to factors that we have limited control over (e.g. environmental conditions). This list provides us with the information we need to be able to prioritise the development of research, development and extension activities aimed at reducing Cavendish rejects in the subtropics. 

A poster is now available showing common quality issues and packing guidelines for subtropical banana growers. To receive a hard copy or for more information contact NSW DPI Industry Development Officer Tom Flanagan on (02) 6626 1352 or email tom.flanagan@dpi.nsw.gov.au 

NSW DPI would like to acknowledge all growers who agreed to participate in the study, Matt Weinert, Leanne Davis from NSW DPI and Valerie Shrubb from AGRIC for undertaking the research. 
This research has been funded as part of the Subtropical Banana Development and Extension Program (BA16007), which is funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy and co-investment from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.
 

Shanara Veivers

Shanara Veivers

Diversity and hard work paves the path for a rewarding career in horticulture.

It’s not every day you find a job that sees you out and about doing field work, running lab experiments, organising and facilitating events, and visiting banana growers on farm. This is all in a day’s work for Research Horticulturist Shanara Veivers, who has gained a diverse range of experience since starting with the Department approximately four years ago.
As an integral member of the banana extension team, Shanara has been responsible for managing an innovation trial based at the South Johnstone Research Facility. This has involved investigating a number of ‘out of the box’ concepts focused on increasing agronomic and environmental performance of banana farming systems. Some of her research areas have included the effects of different de-suckering methods, ground covers, ‘softer’ chemical options, and more recently the use of entomopathogenic nematodes for the control of banana weevil borer and bunch pests.
Meet a researcher

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

When she isn’t working in the trial, Shanara’s time is spent undertaking farm visits, conducting small demonstration trials as well as planning and organising extension events for industry, including the National Banana Roadshows.
Growing up in Queensland’s beautiful Far North, Shanara has always felt an affinity with the environment and agriculture. It’s not surprising that this interest led her to complete a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Environmental Science, at James Cook University in Townsville. Shanara says, ‘Growing up in the local region, where agriculture, particularly banana production is so important for our community, the most exciting part of my role is being a part of the banana farming community. Working with leading scientists and industry stakeholders and being able to provide growers with the latest R&D as well as practical solutions for their farming operations gives me the greatest satisfaction.’
In recognition of Shanara’s contribution to banana research, development and extension activities, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has nominated her for the 2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize.
Away from work, Shanara enjoys being outdoors and keeping active. She said without a doubt bananas are a staple fruit at home, with banana pancakes topping the list as her favourite banana recipe.

Kathy Grice

Kathy Grice

Horticulture's jewel in the north!

For horticultural producers, plant diseases can be the bane of your existence. That’s why many turn to Kathy Grice for assistance. Working in plant pathology for the past 33 years, Kathy offers a wealth of knowledge and experience to help diagnose plant diseases as well as providing management options. With her career based in Far North Queensland a large portion of Kathy’s time has been working on solutions for Australian banana growers.

Kathy’s work is primarily in diagnostics. Banana samples sent to her lab in Mareeba vary from leaf and fruit disorders to corm and root diseases. The primary objective of Kathy’s work in diagnostics is to ensure exotic plant pathogens are not present in our local banana industry. The importance of her diagnostic work is best exemplified by her key role in the black Sigatoka response that resulted in the successful eradication of the disease in Far North Queensland in the early-mid 2000s. 

More recently, Kathy and colleague Peter Trevorrow have focussed their research on the post-harvest quality issue of Crown end rot. As part of this work they have  looked into ‘softer’ control options as an alternative to registered fungicides, with some biological products showing promising results. 

Kathy Grice
Senior Experimentalist (Plant Pathology)
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Mareeba Research Station, Mareeba, Qld

Recently Kathy was awarded the prestigious ‘Lester Burgess Diagnostics and Extension Award’ for her contribution to her field of plant pathology and service to horticultural industries.

When asked what she enjoyed most about her work, Kathy responded, ‘The most exciting or rewarding part of any research is being able to provide a grower/s or an industry with a solution to a particular problem or issue.  I think I enjoy the variety in the work (a mix of laboratory and field work) and learning new ways of tackling research.’

Kathy is a Mareeba resident and an amateur twitcher, so you may find her bird watching in her free time. She also enjoys yoga and travelling overseas to experience different cultures and food. 

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.  
Meet a reseachers

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.

Images of Panama disease tropical race 4

Images of Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4)

Symptoms of Panama disease TR4 expressed in young Williams Cavendish plant
Intermediate stage of expressed symptoms of Panama disease TR4
Early stage of expressed symptoms of Panama disease TR4
Advanced stage of expressed symptoms of Panama disease TR4
Advanced stage of expressed symptoms affecting the whole leaf
Images courtesy of Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

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