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Meet a researcher — Robert Mayers

Robert Mayers

Bringing a banana grower’s perspective to extension

Rob has been a part of the Australian banana industry for over 25 years and is very passionate about its future. Born and raised at the foot of Mt Bartle Frere, Queensland’s highest mountain, Rob grew bananas for 16 years on his family’s farm and continues to grow cane today. 

Rob has had a diverse working career.  After finishing Grade 10, he completed a Certificate 3 in mechanical engineering at the Babinda Sugar Mill, has worked on banana farms, built boats, sold farm machinery and driven cane harvesters.

In 2013 Rob chose a new career path in extension, accepting a role with the Australian Banana Growers’ Council as a Reef Extension Officer. In this role, Rob assisted Far North Queensland banana growers implement industry’s Environmental Best Management Practices and provided training in the use of the Better Bunch data recording app. Now his extension skills are being used in the National Banana Development & Extension Program helping deliver activities such as the National Banana Roadshows, workshops, field days, NextGen, BAGMan and innovation field trials. The program’s renewed focus on one-on-one extension will mean many banana growers will see a familiar face visiting their farms to discuss how the program can assist them.

In his spare time, Rob enjoys spending time with his family and friends and fishing (when time and weather permits). He also enjoys banana muffins and banana fritters with ice cream.

Rob Mayers
NQ Field Officer
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Centre for Wet Tropics Agriculture
South Johnstone

Subtropical banana research and resources

This section of our website has been developed to provide subtropical banana growers with information and resources developed specifically to address the production challenges faced in their regions.

About the subtropical industry

Australia’s subtropical banana growing regions extend from just south of Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales up to Bundaberg in southern Queensland, and in the west includes the production region of Carnarvon. Combined, subtropical banana production accounts for 6% (New South Wales 4% and Carnarvon 2%) of the national industry, with a mixture of both Lady Finger and Cavendish banana varieties predominately grown.

Unlike the tropical growing regions in the north, subtropical banana growers are impacted more by the seasonal influence of cold weather and cold-induced plant stress. Relatively low rainfall in these subtropical regions during winter in combination with the cold temperatures can exacerbate the effects of cold conditions.

For subtropical growers in New South Wales and Queensland, steeper terrain also proves challenging in terms of the mechanisation of farming systems for increased efficiency and limits the use of irrigation. These constraints can increase the difficulty of maintaining consistent fruit quality throughout the year and result in a decrease in overall yield. 

Presence of Panama disease in subtropical growing regions

The subtropical growing regions of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia are also affected by Panama disease caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense. 

Panama disease race 1 is present in all subtropical growing regions and infects Lady finger, Ducasse and Sugar banana varieties but not Cavendish bananas. Race 2 has been detected in northern New South Wales and infects cooking bananas such as Bluggoe and Blue Java. Panama disease subtropical race 4 is also present in all subtropical growing regions and infects most banana varieties including Cavendish cultivars, particularly after being exposed to a period of environmental stress. Subtropical race 4 is less virulent than Panama disease tropical race 4, which is under strict quarantine in the tropical growing regions of the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland. It is important that all banana growers implement good on-farm biosecurity measures to minimise the risk of further spread of the disease and potential introduction of Panama disease tropical race 4.

Banana bunchy top virus

Northern NSW and South East Queensland is also actively managing Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV), a serious plant pest that is regulated in both states. BBTV is spread from plant to plant by the banana aphid Pentalonia nigronervosa. Banana plants infected with BBTV rarely produce fruit. If a bunch is produced it is usually small, deformed and unmarketable. Industry continues to invest in a National Banana Bunchy Top Virus program that runs in South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales to contain and control the disease within the known bunchy top zone and prevent its spread to other production regions. Click here for more information.

Research and resources

Subtropical banana resources

Resource collection

(2021) NSW DPI - Banana soil and tissue analysis interpretation guidelines
(2021) NSW DPI - Panama disease race 1 (recorded presentation)
(2020) NSW DPI - Banana quality issues poster
(2017) DAF - Banana best management practices for on-farm biosecurity
(2016) NSW DPI - Subtropical banana nutrition
(2008) NSW DPI - Banana growing guide Cavendish bananas
(2008) NSW DPI - Soil and water best management practices for NSW banana growers
(2008) NSW DPI - Banana growing basics for NSW
(2004) DAF - Subtropical banana information kit

Images of Banana rust thrips damage

Images of Banana rust thrips and damage caused to fruit

Adult Banana rust thrips and larva. Note the adult has a distinct black line formed by the folded wings and the two eye-like patches over the thorax
V-shaped rust markings on the upper pseudostem indicate the presence of high Banana rust thrips populations
Check under leaf petioles for adult thrips and larva. Insert shows white larvae found under leaf petioles
Early development of Banana rust thrips damage showing faint smudge-like mark
Banana rust thrips damage between the fingers where two adjacent fingers touch
Severe Banana rust thrips damage showing skin cracking
Severe Banana rust thrips damage on mature hand of fruit

More information

Click here for more information on Banana rust thrips.

Subtropical banana soil and leaf interpretation guidelines

Plant nutrition for subtropical banana production

In order to maximise banana productivity and yield, whilst increasing resilience to pests and diseases, it is necessary to get plant nutrition right. Soil and tissue analyses are vital for monitoring soil fertility and plant nutrition. Regularly testing soil and tissue nutrients, and tracking changes in nutrient over time, is essential for developing an accurate and appropriate fertiliser program that delivers the nutrients needed at the right time and can result in efficient and sustainable fertiliser use. It also allows soil fertility issues to be identified early and provides an opportunity to correct them before they begin to affect productivity. It is not possible to achieve this without correctly interpreting the information gained from soil and tissue nutrient analyses.  However, the results reported from soil and tissue analyses can often be confusing and include irrelevant information, making their interpretation challenging. The NSW soil and leaf analysis interpretation guidelines for bananas has been developed to assist with the interpretation of soil and tissue tests so you can make sure your bananas are getting the nutrient they need. 

Download a copy of the guidelines and other resources

For more information contact:

The Better Bananas team
NSW Department of Primary Industries – Industry Development Officer, Tom Flanagan – 02 6626 1352
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries – Banana Extension Team, South Johnstone – 07 4220 4177
or email the team at: betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au 

The NSW soil and leaf analysis interpretation guidelines was funded by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.

Banana rust thrips – monitoring and control

Banana rust thrips Chaetanaphothrips signipennis

Monitoring and control options

Monitoring

Rust thrips can occur on unbunched plants and their presence can easily be determined by monitoring established plantations fortnightly throughout the year. New plantings should be inspected prior to bunching in order to determine both the presence and severity of rust thrips infestations so that control measures, if required, can be carried out before fruit damage occurs.

Under heavy infestations, rust thrips can produce characteristic V-shaped rust-coloured markings on pseudostems (Figure 1) as a result of their feeding where the leaf petiole meets the pseudostem. If these markings are observed, the presence of thrips should be confirmed by gently pulling the leaf petioles away from the stem (Figure 2) and inspecting these sites with a 10x hand lens. In addition, it’s advisable to occasionally lift a number of bunch covers and inspect the developing fruit to ensure no thrips or damage are present. If damage has occurred, further damage can be prevented by additional insecticide application, taking care to comply with withholding periods in accordance with the label.

Figure 1 - V-shaped rust markings on the upper pseudostem indicate the presence of high rust thrips populations
Damage to fingers can range from faint smudge-like markings through to the characteristic slightly red/brown damage known as ‘rust’. Special attention should be paid to those fingers which are closely pressed together as this is where the thrips prefer to feed and shelter.

Control options

Chemical

Chemical control can be directed at both the soil-dwelling pupal stage as well as the adults and larvae on the fruit and plant. Please ensure to always check the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) website to confirm registration of chemical products before use. 

Soil/plant treatments: Apply registered insecticide (e.g. bifenthrin, imidacloprid) as per label directions (e.g. pseudostem treatment, band treatment method). Ensure ground treatments achieve good cover of both the ground around the base of the pseudostem and up the base of the pseudostem as per the label. Treatments aimed at banana weevil borer that are applied to the soil or pseudostem will also provide temporary control of rust thrips. Treatments applied in September/October for weevil borer should provide partial protection, depending on the product used, during November/December and into the early part of the following year. 

Figure 2 - Check under leaf petioles for adult thrips and larva. Insert shows white larvae found under leaf petioles

Fruit treatments: Bell injection is an important component of rust thrips control on the bunch. Correct and timely application is vital for effective control. Apply a registered insecticide (e.g. acephate, spinetoram) as per label or permit directions to the bell in an upright vertical position. Ensure the injector is calibrated and used correctly. 

Bunch spraying/dusting at bagging is also an important measure to control rust thrips.  Apply a registered insecticide (e.g. chlorpyrifos, spinetoram) as per label or permit directions to the bunch. Ensure the bunch spray/duster is calibrated and used correctly. Bifenthrin impregnated bunch covers can also be used instead of applying insecticides to the bunch as dusts or sprays.

Insecticide resistance can compromise the effectiveness of insecticides, therefore adhering to the label and or permit directions is essential. Endeavour to use chemicals with differing modes of action to minimise the possibility of resistance developing.

Monitoring is important to assess that the applied treatment has been effective. 

Cultural

Intact bunch covers (which cover the full length of the bunch) do provide some protection if applied very early. These cannot be relied upon to fully protect the fruit, particularly during severe infestations. Regular checking of fruit under the bunch covers is essential to ensure that damage is not occurring. Ensure treatments are applied immediately after detection to prevent further damage. 

Biological

There are currently no specific predators identified which provide a commercial level of control. General predators such as lacewings and ladybird beetles may exert some control of rust thrips on the plant, and ants may be effective in removing some of the pupae in the soil. 

For more information contact:

The Better Bananas team
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
South Johnstone
07 4220 4177 or email betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au

This information is adapted from: Pinese, B., Piper. R 1994, Bananas insect and mite management, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland

This information has been updated as part of the National Banana Development and Extension Program (BA19004) which is funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana industry research and development levies and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture. The Queensland Government has also co-funded the project through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Banana rust thrips – general information

Banana rust thrips Chaetanaphothrips signipennis General information

Occurrence

Banana rust thrips is a serious and frequent pest of bananas and has been since they were first grown in Queensland. Damage occurs in all areas but is more severe in bananas grown in well-drained red soils.

Seasonality

Rust thrips can damage fruit throughout the year however, the period from November to April is the period of greatest activity. Experience has shown that unusually dry periods during November and April encourage heavy build-ups of thrips and subsequent damage. Wet conditions are thought likely to cause high mortality of the soil-dwelling pupal stage, either directly from drowning or by encouraging the development and spread of diseases.

Figure 1 - Adult banana rust thrips and larva. Note the adult has a distinct black line formed by the folded wings and the two eye-like black patches over the thorax

Description and life cycle

The extremely small eggs are inserted by the female just below the surface of the fruit or other plant tissues. The small (0.5–1.0 mm long) white, slender larvae do not have wings and can be seen moving when areas of infestation are exposed by separating touching fruit. Larvae can also be seen moving on the stem of the plant by pulling back the edge of leaf sheaths. When fully developed, the larvae drop to the ground and pupate just below the soil surface, approximately 30 cm from the base of the plant and suckers. The white pupa is about 1mm long and can be very difficult to find. 

Figure 2 - Life cycle of banana rust thrips in summer months takes approximately 28 days to complete and can be up to 90 days in cooler winter months
The adult has small feather-like wings and is a slender (1–1.5 mm) straw-coloured insect. The wings are fringed with a line of dark scales and, when at rest along the body, these scales form a characteristic black longitudinal line running the length of the abdomen. Two eye-like dark patches at the base of the wings are a characteristic of rust thrips adults. These patches help distinguish them from the smaller males of banana flower thrips.

Damage

Fruit damage is caused during feeding by the larval and adult stages of the thrips. The damage first appears as a faint smudge-like mark (Figure 3) between the fingers in the area where two adjacent fingers touch (Figure 4). This later develops into typical reddish-brown ‘rust’ areas. Severe damage can result in skin cracking (Figures 5 & 6). 

The superficial damage does not reduce the fruit eating quality. However, affected fruit can be downgraded or rejected, depending on the severity of damage and the current market supply conditions. 

Note: Rust thrips damage should not be confused with maturity bronzing, which produces a rusty, reddish discolouration on the fingers. While it appears similar to rust thrips damage, maturity bronzing occurs on the exposed outer curve of the fruit and is not confined to areas where fingers are touching.

For more information contact:

The Better Bananas team
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
South Johnstone
07 4220 4177 or email betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au 

This information is adapted from: Pinese, B., Piper. R 1994, Bananas insect and mite management, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland

This information has been updated as part of the National Banana Development and Extension Program (BA19004) which is funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana industry research and development levies and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture. The Queensland Government has also co-funded the project through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Banana rust thrips

Rust thrips – a persistent and pesky pest!

Rust thrips, a tiny pest that can lead to large economic losses, is consistently popping up as a priority pest for banana growers. This is the feedback the banana extension team has been given by growers at recent farm visits. The team is continuing to gain valuable information from growers on issues affecting fruit yield and quality. Discussions so far have highlighted some commonalities across farms, with Rust thrips being raised as the most common issue amongst growers.
What exactly is it though, that makes Rust thrips such a headache for growers? To help answer this, the extension team asked growers and consultants at the 2020 roadshows to share their experience with managing the pest. Here’s what was learnt.
Rust thrips damage on banana fruit
Most growers who attended the roadshows said that they were reasonably satisfied with the level of control they were getting. However, they weren’t happy with the way in which they must achieve it.
Rust thrips is a persistent pest of bananas, and management practices to control it are on-going and must be undertaken in a timely manner. If not adequately managed, the damage can very quickly become severe and economic losses high. Growers agreed that timely application of chemicals is critical, using the example of bell injection and the need to ensure chemical is injected in the correct position when the bell is still upright. Some growers expressed it wasn’t always easy to be on top of everything that needs to be done, especially given the current labour shortages within industry. Unfortunately, the consequences for growers falling behind in managing this unrelenting pest are almost always high levels of damage to fruit that doesn’t meet market specifications.
Concern was also raised that the current control methods rely too heavily on chemicals, with an over-reliance on their use, with some growers stating they would like to see industry move to alternative softer/biological control options. Workplace health and safety issues surrounding chemical application was also raised, reinforcing the desire to move towards softer biological options. Some growers also indicated their chemical control was no longer effective, suspecting chemical resistance has developed. Rust thrips’ fast life cycle and their relatively sedentary population means they can quickly build resistance to chemicals. This feedback serves as an important reminder for growers to rotate chemical groups as part of their bunch pest management to minimise the risk of chemical resistance.
So where to from here? Project activities included in the project Improved Plant Protection for the Banana Industry (BA16001) include evaluating new chemistries and biological products for bunch pest management. The latest screening of new chemistries, including biological products used for bell injection, commenced in early 2021. Chemical companies will be encouraged to seek registration on any products that perform well in these trials. As part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, the project has also investigated cultural controls for Rust thrips. Bunch cover trials have shown that damage levels varied between different coloured bunch covers. Orange covers had significantly higher level of thrips damage compared to all other colours. White covers had the lowest levels of damage. Read more on the bunch cover trials.
While researchers continue to investigate new alternative management strategies for rust thrips, it’s encouraged that growers familiarize themselves with this pest and the current monitoring and control recommendations. 

Keep an eye out on the home page for updates on bunch pest research.

Click for more information

This information has been prepared as part of the National Banana Development and Extension Program (BA19004) which is funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana industry research and development levies and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture. The Queensland Government has also co-funded the project through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

NextGen—planting the seed for succession

NextGen—planting the seed for succession

When is the right time to start the conversation about farm succession and passing on the reins to the next generation?

Far North Queensland NextGen growers met for the first time in 2021, with succession planning being a key agenda item. With many growers coming from a family farming history, succession planning can be tricky in navigating the needs and wants of family members at different ages and stages of life, with different motivations. 

Guest speakers Nick Birchley and Alison Larard shared their knowledge and experiences on farming succession with the group. Nick, a Financial Councillor for the Rural Financial Counselling Service has extensive agricultural counselling experience and offers financial counselling to banana growers. Coming from a farming background, Alison is a Senior Beef Extension officer for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and a 2018 Nuffield Scholar, completing her scholarship in Succession Planning and Business Management. Stepping through the process of succession, Nick and Alison shared their experiences with the group on what farm business succession is, when to start planning, the stages of a business’s life cycle and how the Rural Financial Counselling Service can assist banana growers with succession and financial counselling. 

The group also discussed the need for labour saving technologies, with a discussion on agricultural compliance management software available to assist growers with compliance, digital record keeping and audits. As an example, insight into an up and coming system to help with record keeping for compliance management was given by Jennifer McKee from Growers Support. 

If you would like further information on how your business can prepare for succession please contact Nick Birchley (RFCS) via email nick@rfcsnq.com.au or phone 0448 460 309. If you are interested in getting involved in NextGen get in touch with Tegan Kukulies (DAF) – tegan.kukulies@daf.qld.gov.au or 0459 846 053.  

Nick Birchley talking with NextGen growers at the Queens Hotel in Innisfail

The NextGen initiative is part of the National Banana Development and Extension Program (BA19004). This project has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the Hort Innovation banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, 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.

Preparing for cyclones

Have a plan for your farm this cyclone season

This year’s monsoon activity is certainly living up to predicted forecasts because of the current La Nina weather pattern. Above average rainfall and an increase in cyclone activity has made for a wet and nervous start for 2021. While many banana growers are well accustomed to these conditions, it never hurts for growers to review their action plan in preparation of a cyclone hitting.

The following information runs through pre-and-post-cyclone management options and mainly focuses on the effects of canopy removal of unbunched plants before the cyclone hits, and the impact of staggering the return to cropping on the subsequent fruit supply. The management options were investigated as part of an industry project in 2011/12 and remain current.

Figure 1 Canopy removal reduces wind resistance and significantly reduces plant losses from 'roll outs'

What to consider when preparing for tropical cyclones

Bananas are very prone to wind damage and losses can be severe, even with low-category cyclones or severe thunderstorms. The likelihood of banana crop damage relates directly to wind strength, the wind resistance presented by a plant and the presence or absence of a bunch. 

Pre-and-post-cyclone management options were investigated in 2011/12 in an industry project, which looked at the effects of canopy removal of unbunched plants before the cyclone hits, and the impact of staggering the return to cropping on the subsequent fruit supply.

Step 1 — looking at your blocks

The first step is to develop a clear idea of the stage of development of the blocks on the farm. How many blocks are plant crops, early ratoons or nurse-suckered, all of which will be more uniform than older ratoons. Of the more uniform blocks, identify those which are heavily bunched, those where the bulk of plants are close to bunching (within 4-6 weeks) and those which are about 2-3 months from bunching.

The uniform unbunched blocks offer the best opportunity to efficiently apply techniques like canopy removal rather than older ratoon blocks.

Step 2 — deciding whether to remove the canopy

The next step is to decide which blocks are most appropriate for treatments like canopy removal, which depends not only on the plant development stage but also the likely wind strength. 

With any cyclone the bunched and large unbunched banana plants are most at risk, so strategies to reduce the wind resistance of these plants can help reduce the damage.

Canopy removal of unbunched plants prior to the cyclone helps to reduce the incidence of plants rolling out and can provide early bunch production. However, removing the canopy has major impacts on yield and fruit length, with 35- 50% reductions in bunch weight and 20-35% reductions in proportion of fruit in the extra large (220-260mm) fruit category (Table 1). Reductions in fruit length were most pronounced in the plants closest to bunching (4-5 weeks) while the biggest reductions in bunch weight occurred for plants that were 13-14 weeks from bunching.

Therefore a fair degree of certainty of damage is needed before embarking on canopy removal on a large scale. For a low-category or physically small cyclone, often the decision to remove the canopy is best left to the latest practical time possible.

Step 3 – how to cut if removing canopy

The way the canopy is removed is also important. ‘Full deleafing’ where the stem was not cut, resulted in a stronger stem that was better able to support a subsequent bunch compared to plants that had been cut through well below the ‘throat’ of the plant. See figures 2 and 3.

Figure 2 Full deleafing to remove leaf canopy, where the stem was not cut, provided a stronger stem to support the bunch
Figure 3 Canopy removal by cutting through the stem resulted in a weaker stem and reduced fruit length and bunch weight

Results — canopy removal by 'full deleafing' of unbunched plants

Table 1 Bunch and plant characteristics for the canopy removal treatments

More information...

For important information on minimising the spread of Panama disease during and after a cyclone event refer to the ABGC fact sheet.

Contact our team:

The Better Bananas team
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
South Johnstone
07 4220 4177 or email betterbananas@daf.qld.gov.au 

 

Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation) and the Queensland Government make no representations and expressly disclaim all warranties (to the extent permitted by law) about the accuracy, completeness, or currency of information in this factsheet. Reliance on any information provided by Hort Innovation and the Queensland Government is entirely at your own risk. Hort Innovation and the Queensland Government are not responsible for, and will not be liable for, any loss, damage, claim, expense, cost (including legal costs) or other liability arising in any way (including from Hort Innovation and the Queensland Government or any other person’s negligence or otherwise) from your use or non-use of this factsheet or from reliance on information contained in the material or that Hort Innovation and the Queensland Government provides to you by any other means.