TR4 Panama Disease

An independently commissioned review into Panama disease tropical race 4 (Panama TR4) in Far North Queensland has provided a list of research priorities to help guide industry to manage the disease in the long term.

Malcolm Letts, chief biosecurity officer of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) chairs the Panama TR4 Program Management Board and said the review also confirmed the combined industry and government response to control and contain the disease had to date been highly effective.

“The board will now progress investigations into the protocol for destroying diseased plants and alternative methods of detecting the disease. We’ll also consider research to help us understand the relationships between environmental conditions, the host and pathogen,”Letts said.

“With management of the disease transitioning to industry leadership in 2023, realistic and cost-effective solutions must now be sought for future control and containment efforts.

“For growers, the review indicates how to limit the impact of a disease incursion through changes to agronomic practices.”

Tully-based grower and Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) chair Stephen Lowe said he hoped the review will lead to future efficiencies that will continue the region’s legacy in containing the disease, but in a more cost-effective way.

“From now to mid-2023 we’ll need to identify ways in which we can continue to manage the disease with a smaller budget,” Lowe said.

“It is imperative that we continue to have success in containing Panama TR4 to buy industry more time to find a commercially viable banana variety that is resistant to this disease, and to ensure the long-term future of our national industry.

“With 94 per cent of Australia’s bananas grown in Far North Queensland, the A$600m industry provides significant employment opportunities and supports regional economies. Shared responsibility is key to ongoing success in the fight against Panama TR4.”

Co-author of the review and Panama disease expert Brett Summerell said Queensland’s efforts had been world-class in controlling and containing the disease.

“Panama TR4 has caused devastation across the world’s banana growing regions,” Summerell said.

“The Queensland effort has been huge, with a lot of investment by growers and government. This collaboration has resulted in Panama TR4 being successfully contained to just five properties in six years. We’re very impressed by all parties who have played a role in managing the disease.”

Panama TR4 was first discovered in the heartland of Australia’s banana growing region of the Tully Valley in 2015. An agreement between the DAF and ABGC will see the management of Panama TR4 transitioned to industry leadership from 1 July 2023.