Agronomic evaluation of new varieties – South Johnstone

Latest update...

Evaluation of the plant crop is now complete, and some promising varieties have been identified. A summary of the observations is now available, including data for selected yield and plant characteristics included in the trial.  

Harvest of the first ratoon is almost completed except for a few varieties which are slower to cycle.  Data from the first ratoon is yet to be finalised but the various trends described in yield and pseudostem height for the plant crop have continued into the first ratoon except that the TR4 resistant Cavendish have fallen away considerably in yield compared to Williams. This is not the first time that poor ratooning has been noted for such selections. 

The CIRAD hybrids have been cycling quicker than Williams which has helped them to improve their yield in the first ratoon compared to what it was in the plant crop, relative to Williams.

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 Alstonville (previously 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. 
With an agreement now in place with the Taiwan Banana Research Institute, it will be possible to progress some of the better performing Taiwanese varieties to on-farm trials. The ability to grow these varieties as part of on-farm trials will allow for a greater number of plants than what is possible at South Johnstone Research Facility. 

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

Plant crop observations

Harvesting of the plant crop commenced with Williams in mid-May 2019 — less than 8 months after planting! However, several varieties were much slower in development and harvest of the plant crop continued until the end of the 2019 calendar year. Yield and plant characteristics recorded for the plant crop is now available . It is worth noting when looking at these initial observations that this is the first time many of these varieties have been grown in Far North Queensland and the number of plants of each variety included in the screening is quite small. It is also important to keep in mind seasonal effects on the trial’s long harvest period of May to December. For example, winter bunch filling will be slower than summer bunch filling. 

Promising varieties based on plant crop observations

All of the Taiwanese Cavendish selections available in Australia are included in this trial. These selections were typically two to five months slower than Williams in the plant crop, however several had heavier bunches. When taking into account bunch weight relative to time taken, there are some promising results with two new selections, Asia Pacific #3 and GCTCV 217 having comparable results with Williams. Two Formosana (GCTCV 218) selections have shown promising results with comparable yields to Williams.

GCTCV 217 plant bunch
GCTCV 218 (Formosana) Selection plant bunch
GCTCV 215 plant bunch

Other Taiwanese varieties yielded from 77 to 94% compared to Williams in the plant crop. Some had significantly shorter fruit, as indicated by the percentage of fruit in the 22-26 cm size category. 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. Several of the Taiwanese varieties were taller than Williams.  

Rahan Meristem Cavendish selections

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

Gal and Jaffa were the only varieties in the trial that yielded significantly higher (per unit time) than Williams. These selections have not been tested against Panama disease TR4 but are not expected to have any resistance. 

These selections are owned in Australia by Rahan Meristem and it is expected they will be made available to some growers as part of on-farm evaluations towards the end of 2020.

Rahan Meristem Gal plant bunch
Rahan Meristem Jaffa plant bunch

Other varieties

The dwarf selections of Cavendish, Brier and Dwarf Cavendish, have yielded well with substantially shorter fruit than Williams. 

CIRAD hybrids only yielded 52% to 58% to that of Williams and were 12 to 46% taller than Williams in the plant crop. Their leaf petioles seem quite brittle and under wind often snapped 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. 

A repeat evaluation is required of some varieties which had a high incidence of tissue culture offtypes.

CIRAD 05 plant bunch
Brier plant bunch
Some of the leaf disease resistant CIRAD hybrids, including CIRAD 03 pictured, have been well received by DAF staff at informal tasting sessions

Growers and industry stakeholders have had opportunities to view bunches hanging during the plant and first ratoon crops. The last field walk was held in March 2020.

Jeff Daniells from DAF giving a tour of the variety evaluation trial block at South Johnstone Research Facility in March 2020. Growers were able to see fruit of early bunching varieties in the first ratoon crop.

More information...

If you would like further information feel free to contact the Better Bananas team via email at

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.