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Ongoing project

Improved plant protection for the banana industry (BA16001) and Strengthening the banana industry diagnostic capacity (BA16005)

Key research provider: The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, in collaboration with several organisations

What are they all about?

Carrying on from the previous iteration of the Banana Plant Protection Program, Improved plant protection for the banana industry (BA16001) continues to expand on plant protection for the banana industry.

Its work focuses on access to and evaluation of banana varieties with improved pest and disease traits; access to clean planting material that has been pathogen tested; enhancing the diagnostic capacity for endemic and exotic threats; and improving integrated pest and disease management.

It is working closely with the project Strengthening the banana industry diagnostic capacity (BA16005), which is focused on growing the industry’s ability to detect and identify emerging endemic and exotic plant pathogens. Along with diagnostic work, BA16005 will increase knowledge of the biology and spread of key diseases, and develop and test eradication strategies.

All aspects of this extensive program are progressing, including the evaluation of banana varieties with improved pest and disease traits, and work to improve management of insect and nematode pests.

The team gave multiple presentations at the 2019 Australian Banana Industry Congress, held at the Gold Coast in May, conveying research findings on various aspects of the work to more than 350 attendees.

In closely related work (BA16005) results are in from trials controlling Race 1 of Fusarium wilt from the Duranbah site in NSW. Past research had indicated that high doses of urea can kill fusarium in the soil but data on its effectiveness was lacking. The team conducted a trial in collaboration with Biosecurity Queensland, that found that best results were obtained by applying urea, watering it in and covering the site with plastic. This provides scientific validation for the effectiveness of this destruction method which is currently used when new plants in Queensland are confirmed to have Panama disease.

 Work on effective diagnosis of a number of banana diseases, including banana wilt, continues.

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 The project’s work has been featured in a number articles: 

As noted in previous updates, the work of these programs for industry is incredibly substantial and varied. Updates on the individual areas of work are regularly provided in levy-funded communication channels, so we encourage you to be on the lookout for these in the Australian Bananas magazine, industry e-bulletins and in various updates on the Australian Banana Growers’ Council website. The project team also attend industry events, where they are available and keen to field questions.

For a short look at just some of the recent work, read on…

Variety screening and field trials

A new variety trial was planted at South Johnstone towards the end of 2018, where 32 varieties are being evaluated for agronomic performance over three crop cycles, with leaf spot screening taking place in a fourth cycle. This is a first look at many of these varieties to see how they perform under north Queensland conditions. In addition, some preliminary postharvest assessments will be carried out. The varieties include the full suite of Taiwanese selections of Cavendish present in Australia, plus four additional elite Cavendish selections, four hybrids from the breeding program of CIRAD (the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development) in the French West Indies, two Cavendish selections from the Canary Islands, and a new dwarf Lady Finger selection.

In conjunction with the agronomic evaluations, many of these varieties will also be screened against TR4 in the Norther Territory to determine or confirm resistance.

Insect-related work

  • Flower thrips. Following the banning of omethoate, the project is looking at alternatives for the control of flower thrips. In field trials, bunches that were bell-injected with 11 new insecticides were compared with two omethoate and the registered chemical bifenthrin. One product outperformed both registered products in managing banana flower thrips, and two other products produced a promising level of control. The work will be repeated and will include a further number of the previously tested chemistries and some novel chemistries. Efficacy data on banana scab moth will also be collected by scheduling the trial during periods when this pest is active.

  • Rust thrips. In a recent field trial, the impact of bunch-cover colours on rust thrips damage was assessed. Results showed that orange plastic bunch covers produced the highest levels of damage to fruit, while paper bunch covers produced the lowest level. The colours dark blue, light blue, green, white and silver produced suitable levels of control. This work is set to be repeated and will include the use of data loggers under the bunch covers to assess temperature and humidity in the bagged environment. This work has important implications, as it may provide an insight into how different-coloured bags can be incorporated into an integrated pest management program. In addition to this, work into paper covers might support practice change away from the use of plastic covers, which is associated with environmental issues such as their disposal and the risk that they may find their way into waterways.

Nematode activities

Significant progress has been made in evaluating the resistance of potential rotation or ground cover crops to burrowing nematode (Radopholus similis). Ten plant species have been identified as having high resistance to the pest – signaling that they have the potential be used as rotation crops grown in fields to reduce nematode numbers before replanting to banana, or as cover crops/inter-row crops to reduce the spread of nematodes in a plantation, while also reducing soil erosion. In particular some offer the opportunity for useful summer fallow rotation options in north Queensland to complement Rhodes grass and canola, which are better suited for autumn and winter in this region.

This information is being compiled into a tool for growers.

Leaf-disease research

Among their activities, the project team is continuing to look at the post-infection activity of paraffinic oil and registered fungicides against yellow Sigatoka, which is caused by the Pseudocercospora musae fungus, and during 2019 there will be field evaluation of a range of new compounds for controlling the disease (including new fungicides, biological controls and plant defense activators).

Viral work

The project team continues to analyse banana germplasm samples for banana viruses, and have begun the preliminary characterisation of a new virus that appears to cause thickening of secondary veins, undulating leaf margins and twisting of leaves.

In relation to banana bunchy top, the researchers are investigating alternative hosts of the virus. They note that in French Polynesia, bunchy top has been identified in red ginger, and a sample of Fe’i banana has also tested positive for the disease – with further investigation revealing the virus to be genetically distinct from currently identified forms of the virus. Testing methods against the virus are now being developed.

The Banana Plant Protection Program is a significant investment for the industry, with a broad and hefty range of work. Regular updates on components of its activity are provided through the levy-funded communications program as well as the industry’s development and extension investments. In this update, we provide just a quick look at some of the program’s recent efforts…

Variety screening and field trials

  • The project is running trials in New South Wales, Far North Queensland and in the Northern Territory to identify banana varieties with improved pest, disease, agronomic and consumer preference traits suited to diversifying production, expanding sales, improving production efficiency and sustaining production in the face of disease. This includes screening imported varieties obtained through the program’s variety access work.

  • New varieties are regularly added to the various trial sites, with field walks and other updates organised through industry channels to provide ongoing updates.

  • Recently, new varieties were added for evaluation at the TR4 resistance screening site in the Northern territory, while varieties that have already been screened are now progressing to pre-commercialisation trials on commercial farms.

Access to new varieties

  • The program team continues to build collaborations with international breeding programs, to aid access to new banana varieties for importation and evaluation – particularly those with resistance to Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 and Race 1. Earlier in 2018 the program team engaged representatives from the Taiwan Banana Research Institute in developing a collaborative R&D program, and conversations are ongoing with institutions in several potential collaborating countries. 

  • As reported in earlier editions of Hortlink, the possibility of generating varieties in Australia via mutagenesis and ‘somaclonal selection’ is being investigated, with Banana Fund investment Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 research program (BA14014) providing an indication of the merits of these approaches. Read more about mutagenesis on the new Better Bananas website and revisit information on somaclonal selection here, from an article back in the December 2017 edition of the levy-funded Australian Bananas magazine.

Integrated pest and disease management (IPDM) work

The program has a range of research projects to build knowledge and management strategies against pests and diseases through IPDM approaches. 

  • Insect-related activities include screening biological or new-mode-of-action chemical products against bunch pests (thrips and caterpillars); investigating cultural controls and pheromones for thrips and banana scab moth; checking the genetic diversity of banana scab moth to investigate host/Race interactions; and looking at the efficacy of biological controls (predatory insects) against banana rust thrips, scab moth and spider mites.

    The latest work in this space includes field trials to screen new chemical and biological products for rust thrips, while different coloured bunch covers are also being investigated as a way to control the damage caused by the pest.

    New chemicals that could be applied using the ‘bell injection’ technique against multiple pests are also being screened.
  • Leaf-disease activities include screening a range of fungicides, plant defence activators and biological products against yellow Sigatoka. Most recently, the work has looked at the post-infection activity of paraffinic oil and other formulations against the disease

    This component of work also supports varietal leaf spot screening being conducted at the South Johnstone Research Station, to identify levels of tolerance to yellow Sigatoka in newly imported banana germplasm.
  • Nematode activities. While the most damaging nematode pest of bananas worldwide is the burrowing nematode, there are other major nematodes increasing in some banana-growing regions. More information is needed on these new pests, including on their potential impact, which this research component will look at. The team will develop the new tools and information required to provide integrated control for all nematode pest species, particularly investigating the host status of popular fallow crop species, and identifying possible biological or new-mode-of-action nematicide products.

    The work is of course also addressing the burrowing nematode, with glasshouse screening trials underway to evaluate legumes and grass ground covers for resistance.

Diagnostic services

It’s vital that new banana cultivars are safely imported into Australia free from exotic pests and diseases, with QDAF providing the facilities and processes to ensure the safe importation of international plant material. Through the IPDM work, access to local pest and disease diagnostic services in Mareeba and South Johnstone is also being opened up to samples from banana producers and service providers. Testing from a range of sources to monitor local banana growing areas will provide information on the status of endemic pests and diseases, and potential incursions of exotic threats.

With such a large project undertaking, look for details of research components in industry channels.

The Banana Plant Protection Program is a significant investment for the industry, and has a broad range of work. Here’s a quick look at just some of the program’s recent efforts.

  • Access to new varietiesThe program team continues to build collaborations with international breeding programs, to aid access to new banana varieties for importation and evaluation – particularly dessert-style bananas with resistance to Fusarium wilt TR4 and Race 1. They have also looked at the possibility of generating varieties in Australia via mutagenesis and ‘somaclonal selection’, with results regarding the latter from the Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 research program (BA14014) providing an indication of the merits of this approach. Read more about this in this article from the December 2017 edition of Australian Bananas magazine.
  • Screening and field trialsThe project is running trials in New South Wales and in the Northern Territory to identify varieties with improved pest, disease, agronomic and consumer preference traits suited to diversifying production, expanding sales, improving production efficiency and sustaining production in the face of disease. During February 2018, three new plantings were made at the program’s Duranbah trial site in New South Wales. These include…
    • A trial for looking at the resistance/susceptibility of varieties to Race 1.
    • Plantings of ‘best bet’ varieties. Here, three promising varieties have been chosen from earlier agronomy trials and established for planting density comparison and handling, ripening and consumer acceptance trials. The varieties include PKZ, which has shown potential as a yellow Sigatoka resistant potential replacement for Cavendish in the subtropics; FLF1, which is resistant to Race 1 and yellow Sigatoka; and FHIA17, which has a potential dual purpose as both a dessert and cooking banana.
    • Plantings for ‘look see’ testing of new varieties. Here, several recently imported varieties, available in limited quantities and that may have potential in niche markets, will be monitored for selected agronomic characteristics and pest and disease resistance.
  • Integrated pest and disease management (IPDM) work. The program is set to move forward with a range of research projects based on industry priority areas and identified as part of its IPDM strategy. This work does or will include…
    • Insect-related activities, with a focus on screening biological or new-mode-of-action chemical products against bunch pests (thrips and caterpillars); investigating cultural controls and pheromones for thrips and banana scab moth; checking the genetic diversity of banana scab moth to investigate host/Race interactions; and looking at the efficacy of biological controls (predatory insects) against banana rust thrips, scab moth and spider mites.
    • Leaf-disease activities, where the program team will screen a range of fungicides, plant defence activators and biological products against yellow Sigatoka. This component of work will also support varietal leaf spot screening being conducted at the South Johnstone Research Station, to identify levels of tolerance to yellow Sigatoka in newly imported banana germplasm.
  • Nematode activities. While the most damaging nematode pest of bananas worldwide is the burrowing nematode, there are other major nematodes increasing in some banana-growing regions. More information is needed on these new pests, including on their potential impact, which this research component will look at. The team will develop the new tools and information required to provide integrated control for all nematode pest species, particularly investigating the host status of popular fallow crop species, and identifying possible biological or new-mode-of-action nematicide products.
  • Diagnostic servicesIt’s vital that new banana cultivars are safely imported into Australia free from exotic pests and diseases, with QDAF providing the facilities and processes to ensure the safe importation of international plant material. Through the IPDM work, access to local pest and disease diagnostic services in Mareeba and South Johnstone is also set to be opened up to samples from banana producers and service providers. Testing from a range of sources to monitor local banana growing areas will provide information on the status of endemic pests and diseases, and potential incursions of exotic threats.

With such a large project undertaking, look for details of research components in industry channels.

Related levy funds
Details

These projects are strategic levy investments in the Hort Innovation Banana Fund