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$16M drive to strengthen Australia’s banana defences

Publication date: 21 January 2019

In the wake of disease incursions that have affected pockets of the banana industry, Horticulture Innovation Australia has announced a $15.9 million initiative to support one of the nation’s most loved snacks.

Being driven by industry through complementary projects with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) and the University of Queensland (UQ), the four-year initiative will work to develop access to banana varieties with improved pest, disease and consumer-preference traits.

Horticulture Innovation Australia chief executive John Lloyd said more than five years of research to support the banana industry to date has proven invaluable when dealing with incursions of Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4) and Banana Freckle in the NT. He said this new research would arm industry with the tools it needs to continue to meet consumer demand and combat pest and disease threats well into the future.

“The Australian banana industry is thriving with the fruit being one of the top-selling supermarket snacking items in the country," he said.

"What this research will do is ensure the industry’s vitality for years to come by strengthening its biosecurity defences through the development of new varieties while focusing on even lower chemical usage in line with consumer expectations,” he said.

As part of the research, QDAF is charged with delivering improved pest and disease management systems and identifying and testing new improved banana varieties to improve efficiency and sustain production in the face of disease.

“Over many years, we have built up a large collection of high-health banana germplasm from imported and locally sourced cultivars,” Stewart Lindsay the Queensland DAF project leader said.

“These will be tested for agronomic traits and pest and disease tolerance in different production regions in North Queensland, northern NSW and the Northern Territory."

Ultimately, researchers are working on an integrated system where knowledge of the banana and the biological system work together with access to high health plant material for the whole banana industry.

UQ will be focussing on the early detection and identification of emerging endemic and exotic diseases and reducing the risk of introduction and spread of exotic plant pathogens.

UQ Professor Andrew Drenth said early detection of endemic and exotic diseases is vital to keeping the banana industry free from pests and diseases.

“The value of rapid and accurate diagnostics has been convincingly demonstrated after incursions of Banana Freckle and TR4, and before that, during the black Sigatoka outbreak in Tully more than a decade ago,” Mr Drenth said.

“The overall outcome of this project will deliver what is an ongoing world leading ability to detect, identify and characterise a wide range of exotic and emerging diseases, protecting Australia’s enviable banana production environment, while reducing costs, boosting yields and meeting consumer expectations.”