Banana growers face a year without a crop as Panama disease takes hold
The highly destructive fungal disease known for wiping out entire banana crops, is devastating plantations in NSW, putting local supply in jeopardy.
A highly destructive fungal disease known for wiping out entire banana crops, is devastating plantations on the New South Wales Mid North Coast, putting local supply in jeopardy.
Key points:Panama disease is affecting banana production on several Coffs Harbour farmsGrowers are concerned high rainfall will spread the disease to surrounding propertiesThe disease strain affects both Lady Finger and Ducasse banana varieties
The disease, Panama disease race 1, is threatening a banana supply shortage of the Lady Finger and Ducasse banana varieties.
One grower based in Boambee near Coffs Harbour, who wishes to remain anonymous, expects to lose his entire crop to the disease.
"We've had Ducasse in for about six years and in the last year I think we've lost 50 per cent [of the crop]," he said.
"With all this rain, it's still spreading … and it's not spreading from tree to tree it's just coming out everywhere."
The farmer is now preparing to grow the most popular variety, Cavendish bananas, as they are not affected by race 1 of the disease.
But the transition will cost him a year's worth of income.
Heavy rainfall can aid the spread
Coffs Harbour and District Banana Growers' Association vice president Wally Gately explained Panama disease was spread through soil movement.
"It's a soil-borne disease so it can move with water or it can wash down stream to another farm," Mr Gately said.
"It can even just be picked up on mud on tyres."
The region has received high summer rainfall, recording more than 170 millimetres of rainfall in early January.
High rainfall in the mountainous area provides the ideal conditions for fungal spores to spread to surrounding properties, especially when the run-off crosses a road.
"They only have to pick up a couple of these spores that come out and it can transfer to any other farm with the varieties quite easily," Mr Gately said.
The disease is highly infectious and can quickly wipe out an entire banana crop.
"Once it gets into the crop that's the loss of the plant and as it spreads you lose more plants, so the [infected] area grows," Mr Gately said.
"So your production is gone, and you can't grow that variety because it's just going to kill you out."
Growers urged to report
The NSW Farmers Association is aware of several infected farms in the Coffs Harbour area and surrounding regions.
A spokesman said growers with infected crops had a responsibility to stop the disease spreading to their neighbours.
According to the association, prevention measures could include sewer traps or hay bales to stem run-off.
"Farmers have a duty of care towards their neighbours when it comes to controlling these sort of things."
The NSW Department of Primary Industries and Environment is collating reports through its hotline on 1800 084 881.