Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 – biosecurity and sustainable solutions (BA14013)
Status: Near-completed project
What’s it all about? Due for completion early this year, this project has had a focus on biosecurity strategies around Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4), a damaging disease of Cavendish bananas. Its role has been to provide new science, information and practices to help growers avoid the fungus, contain its spread if it does occur, and manage an outbreak safely.
Its five broad aims have been to:
- Improve on-farm biosecurity practices to reduce movement of inoculum and to develop medium and long-term solutions for monitoring, identifying infection, interventions and further management
- Improve access to new disease-resistant/tolerant cultivars
- Develop resilient disease-management options to minimise plant stress
- Update banana biosecurity protocols
- Facilitate adoption of research findings.
What’s the latest update? Recent work in the project has continued the identification of ‘movement pathways’ for the fungus that causes TR4, and improved biosecurity methods related to soil, water and people movement for the North Queensland banana industry. The researchers note that the founding principle here is exclusion of all non-essential vehicles, machinery, tools, people and planting material. Where this isn’t practical (such as for staff access, delivery of farm inputs and the like), then access should be subject to risk-management practices, implemented across established ‘access zones’ on a property. These practices include:
- Use of dedicated vehicles, footwear and tools within specific property zones
- Procedures and facilities for footwear change at zone boundaries
- Use of footbaths, vehicle washing and disinfection procedures
- Physical barriers such as fencing to minimise people and animal movement across zones
- Use of certified clean planting material.
The researchers acknowledge that applying these practices on farms with non-contiguous parcels of land can be problematic, because of the need to duplicate facilities or machinery.
Other recent efforts in the project have included:
- Investigation of early detection procedures, including measurement of leaf chlorophyll content and thermography tests
- Work to validate a DNA soil detection test for the TR4 fungus
- Contribution to the review and updating of diagnostic protocols for the TR4 fungus
- Field testing of banana pseudostem destruction and decomposition methods, including the injection of pseudostems with Trichoderma fungi isolates for potential enhancement of decomposition
- The continuation of work to determine the host status of common weed, grass and groundcover species in North Queensland
- Research into the role of root exudates on the growth of TR4 on bananas
- The continued development of banana production systems to suppress the TR4 fungus, focusing on the use of vegetated ground covers and nitrogen fertiliser management.
Work is continuing in these areas, and the project is also developing a best management plan (BMP) for on-farm biosecurity, which is soon to be released. Growers will be able to demonstrate their implementation of effective biosecurity practices using the BMP system.
Integrated management of Yellow Sigatoka (BA15003)
Status: Ongoing project
What’s it all about? Beginning in 2016, this project supports the work of the Yellow Sigatoka liaison officer of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council. This officer’s Queensland-based role includes educating growers on Yellow Sigatoka (leaf spot) symptoms and integrated control, and assisting growers to keep levels of disease on their plantations below prescribed levels.
The officer undertakes leaf spot inspections and alerts Biosecurity Queensland when any other suspected banana diseases are found.
What’s the latest update? In regards to disease surveillance, the liaison officer conducted on-farm visits to 192 commercial properties in the second half of 2016, representing 73 per cent of commercial banana growers in the northern quarantine zone. The liaison officer reports that there has been excellent voluntary compliance in leaf spot control (99 per cent with follow-up visits), and only two cases requiring referral to Biosecurity Queensland.
During this period, the officer also inspected backyard bananas on a small number of residential properties and inspected and destroyed two groups of feral banana plants showing leaf-spot symptoms.
Other activities of the liaison officer have included:
- Provision of leaflets and posters to growers experiencing problems with leaf disease
- Participation in a range of industry meetings and events, providing face-to-face advice to growers and input into other relevant industry projects
- Continued collection of specimens of excessive Yellow Sigatoka and leaf speckle during on-farm inspections.
Cause and management of crown rot of banana (BA13011)
Status: Ongoing project
What’s it all about? This project aims to develop a greater understanding of the factors that contribute to crown end rot (CER), which has re-emerged as an important problem in the banana supply chain. The research seeks to improve pre- and post-harvest disease control and provide growers with information that will result reduced losses due to this disease.
What’s the latest update? The project has previously identified two pathogens to be commonly associated with CER: Musicillium theobromae and Fusarium spp. (Fusarium equiseti-incarnatum complex). Both are widely distributed in North Queensland growing environments, and neither appear to be influenced by seasonal conditions.
Now the Thielaviopsis musarum fungus has been detected for the first time from bunch stalks collected on-farm, as part of the project’s supply-chain assessments. The researchers note that the occurrence of Thielaviopsis musarum does appear to be influenced by seasonal conditions, being more prevalent in winter/spring harvested fruit. More investigation is needed.
In regards to the control of CER pathogens, the researchers have been looking at thiabendazole and prochloraz, the current industry standards. They report that a loss of sensitivity to thiabendazole is more common than a loss of sensitivity to prochloraz, particularly in coastal regions, and that while alternative treatments have been evaluated, none have been able to provide the same level of control. Different application methods and rates continue to be explored.
Finally, a simulated supply chain time trial seems to confirm that the longer fruit is held in storage before ripening, the greater the severity of CER – analysis of this data was ongoing at the time of reporting to Hort Innovation.
Studying the effects of thiabendazole and prochloraz on CER organisms in the lab, part of project BA13011
Coordination of banana industry research and development (Panama TR4) (BA14012)
Status: Ongoing project
What’s it all about? The objective of this project is to coordinate the industry’s efforts, and build the knowledge and capacity, to manage and contain the Panama Tropical Race 4 (Panama TR4) fungal disease, first identified in Queensland in March 2015. The Australian Banana Growers’ Council’s Dr Rosie Godwin is employed under this project as the Banana Industry R&D Manager, to ensure R&D on Panama TR4 has tangible outcomes for banana growers that are adopted on-farm.
What’s the latest update? Now well into its second year, activities of the R&D Manager have included:
- Input into R&D projects relevant to TR4 and other key banana diseases, including involvement in the industry’s Plant Protection Program and its new iteration (see ‘Other R&D projects of note’, below)
- Work with Australia’s nursery industry to drive the transition and update of the accredited planting material program QBAN (Quality Banana Approved Nurseries)
- Continued input into the organisation of the 2017 Banana Industry Congress program
- Review of Biosecurity Queensland’s (BQ’s) risk management strategies of field activities, plus input into guidelines, factsheets and training material to ensure BQ’s containment management strategy for TR4 is effective
- Continued consultation with growers on TR4 and other relevant industry issues, including advice on chemical permits and usage, a clean planting material scheme, coffee bean weevil and exotic weeds
- Development of new training modules to be rolled out to industry, based on the scenario of ‘Living with TR4’
- Participation and presentation at industry workshops.
Scoping herbicide impacts on banana production and soil health (BA13002)
Status: Completed project
What was it all about? Herbicides are applied in most banana plantations to reduce competition with weeds. This project sought to understand what impact – if any – these herbicides have on soil health, through their influence on soil microorganisms. There has been speculation that application of herbicides may impact on soil functions. In light of this, the researchers set out to quantify changes in soil biological communities following the application of registered herbicides, and to determine if there is potential for biological remediation of herbicides.
The project work has led to the production of a draft ‘herbicide risk tool’, which assesses the affect of the different herbicides available for use by the industry on different soil microbial communities. When available, the tool will assist growers to make decisions on which herbicides to use, given their specific circumstances with soil management.
In terms of results, investigations revealed that following single applications of registered herbicides, applied at recommended registered rates, there were only minimal and temporary impacts on soil microbial communities, while application above recommended rates led to greater reduction in soil biological functions.
There remain some questions about the effect of multiple applications, as only single applications of active ingredients in the herbicides were trialled in this project. Rotation of herbicide active ingredients, with a sufficient spell between applications, is likely to alter any potential impacts on soil organisms. This could be one strategy to manage herbicide impacts on soil biological functions, and reduce the risk of weed resistance to herbicides.
Full details will be found in the project’s final report, which will ultimately be available to order at www.horticulture.com.au/about/resources-publications-final-reports. Final reports are free to Australian horticulture levy payers, registered Hort Innovation members and industry representative bodies.
The Australian banana industry communications program (BA15005)
Status: Ongoing project
What’s it all about? This project is responsible for keeping Australian banana growers and other industry stakeholders informed about key industry issues and the latest R&D in a timely way. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the uptake of new information, technologies and practices – in turn helping growers forge more productive, profitable and resilient businesses.
What’s the latest update? Delivered by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, the project continues to produce and maintain key communication channels, including but not limited to:
- The quarterly Australian Bananas magazine, with digital issues accessible here
- Industry e-bulletins, sent at least twice per month but delivered more frequently if needed. The e-bulletins continue to be available here
- The Australian Banana Growers’ Council website, abgc.org.au, which is updated regularly with content
- The Australian Banana Growers’ Council Facebook page
- SMS notifications and phone calls to growers, used for urgent industry updates
- Video content to help convey information to growers, available through the Australian Banana Growers’ Council YouTube page.
The project is also responsible for media relations services, creating and distributing media releases and fielding media enquiries.
Banana strategic industry development (BA13023)
Status: Ongoing project
What’s it all about? This project supports the role of an industry strategy manager (ISM) within the Australian Banana Growers’ Council. With a focus on biosecurity and the environment, some specific activities of the role include:
- Researching and preparing biosecurity and environmental strategies to support the banana industry to ensure it remains sustainable and profitable
- Representing the banana industry in meetings and other stakeholder engagement mechanisms about issues relating to biosecurity and the environment
- Communicating developments in the biosecurity and environmental areas to growers through field days, workshops, grower meetings and articles in industry publications – with the ultimate goal of increasing growers’ exposure to and adoption of new ideas, and facilitating grower input into policy and strategy development.
What’s the latest update? Recent activities of the ISM (Michelle McKinlay) have included the preparation of a water quality strategy for the industry, involving consultation with growers; work towards a biosecurity strategy framework; and continued participation in a number of industry projects and extension activities.
In 2016, there was also the development and September launch of the Better Bunch app, an electronic tool designed to help growers manage environmentally sustainable practices. The app is available free for Android and iOS platforms – don’t forget to download it from the Google Play or iTunes store.
NSW banana industry development officer (BA13025)
Status: Ongoing project
What’s it all about? This project supports the role of an industry development officer (IDO) for the New South Wales banana industry. The IDO’s goals are to develop greater cohesion in the industry, help build capacity, and to facilitate the development of skills and the uptake of new practices.
What’s the latest update? At the time of last reporting to Hort Innovation at the end of 2016, recent activities of the IDO (Matt Weinart) had included:
- Publishing of the guide Subtropical banana nutrition – matching nutrition requirements to growth demands, available from Hort Innovation here. The guide is based on nutrition workshops held earlier in the project and is available for subtropical growers to download here. Topics include phenology, healthy soils, chemical elements and designing a banana nutrition program.
- Continued surveying of growers and supply chain mapping, which will be ongoing until the project’s end later this year
- Facilitation of industry workshops, including one on Panama TR4 biosecurity, and contribution to banana roadshow events
- Collaboration with other projects, including the Banana Plant Protection Program (BA10020) to extend planting material to growers for trial
- Continuation of trials and data collection, including work to optimise the use of banana weevil lure and trap systems, and the use of two soil-health demonstration sites at Woolgoolga and Mullumbimby, with results to be published in future editions of Hortlink.
Other R&D projects of note…
- Banana Plant Protection Program (BA10020), which has recently concluded. With a focus on banana plant health, the program was made up of a number of sub-projects including the evaluation of new varieties for pathogen resistance and desirable consumer traits; work to improve prevention, detection and early responses to pest incursions; and the provision of cost-effective and sustainable management options for priority pests and diseases. A full wrap-up will be provided in the next edition of Hortlink, when the project’s final report is available.
- Improved plant protection for the banana industry (BA16001), which is currently being contracted. Carrying on from the Banana Plant Protection Program, it will continue to expand on plant protection for the banana industry through access to banana varieties with improved pest and disease traits; access to clean planting material that has been pathogen tested; enhanced diagnostic capacity for endemic and exotic threats; and improved pest and disease management.
- National banana bunchy top virus program – Phase 3 – QLD (BA15006) and National banana bunchy top virus program – Phase 3 – NSW (BA15007). With banana bunchy top virus the most serious viral disease of bananas, these projects represent the third phase in a 10-year-plan aimed at eradicating the disease from Australia. Project activities are designed to protect uninfested areas; remove infestation from farms and protect from reinfestation; and to reduce the disease range. The essential strategy is a risk-based surveillance and plant rogueing program, along with awareness activities. This is being enhanced with a cloud-based Geographic Information System (GIS) that will simplify mapping, planning, recording and reporting.At the time of writing, an independent review of the projects was in the process of being finalised, with further project details to be provided in future editions of Hortlink.
- Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 research program (BA14014), an ongoing project that seeks to provide medium- and long-term solutions for banana growers to allow continued profitable production, should Fusarium wilt become widespread in the North Queensland banana industry. Key goals of the project are to: improve cultivar resistance, by developing and identifying TR4-resistant varieties; build resilient banana production systems, by developing a better understanding of the TR4 pathogen and its interactions with plants and soils; and to improve on-farm biosecurity practices.
- Horticulture Nuffield Scholarships 2016/2017/2018 (BA15004), which provides funding to support Nuffield Scholars in the banana industry. Nuffield Scholarships are a chance for Australians in agriculture to grow their practical knowledge and a broad variety of skills, while heading overseas to study a topic related to their industry. The 2016 scholar under this project was organic banana grower Matthew Abbott from Mena Creek, Queensland. Read more about Matthew and his project in his profile at the bottom of this page.
- Banana industry congress 2017 (BA16700), which is responsible for the industry’s biennial Australian Banana Industry Congress, to be held in Sydney in June this year. The event is a chance for the latest banana R&D and marketing programs and results to be shared with industry. For further information, visit the congress website here.