BREEDING a new banana variety that is resistant to Panama disease is the key to future proofing the industry in Far North Queensland, according to one of Australia’s largest growers.
Tully-based Mackay’s Farming director Cameron Mackay said Panama Tropical Race 4 remained the biggest issue facing the banana industry, after the disease was first detected in Queensland in 2015.
Three separate farms have been affected since then in the Tully Valley region and while containment has been largely successful, Mr Mackay said that was really only buying time for growers.
Research is currently underway to develop a Panama disease resistant banana that also tastes good.
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Mr Mackay said he expected a suitable variety would be developed and introduced into production within five years.
“TR4 is still our biggest issue, that’s probably consuming around 70-80 per cent of what’s happening around bananas at the moment.
“It is being contained and there’s things in place to manage it, but if we follow through the history we think it’s going down, it means it will spread and we will have to deal with it as it spreads.
“I think the containment measures that are currently in place are quite strict and need to be in this early phase.”
Mr Mackay said there were exciting things happening in the industry in terms of breeding a resistant variety.
“The more time we can buy by containing it, the closer we're getting to a resistant variety that will allow us to grow with the disease.
”There's a lot of breeding going on at the moment with resistant varieties, because that's the ultimate answer.”
Mr Mackay said there was already several banana varieties that were resistant to Panama that had been discovered during other breeding trials.
“There’s resistant bananas out there now for TR4 and some have good yield, but they don’t taste any good.
“So it’s about finding that balance, that it tastes good, it’s got good yield and good agronomics so it’s going to grow in most climates.
“Within five years we'll be starting to see some, whether it's the one that lands and everyone runs with 100 per cent maybe not, it might be 10 years for that.”
Mr Mackay said convincing consumers to try a different banana would likely pose a challenge for the industry as 95 per cent of bananas currently sold in Australia were the popular Cavendish variety.
“But if it's a superior banana to the Cavendish, the uptake could be reasonably quick… it's how the consumers react to it.”
Mr Mackay said production was down in the Far North this winter, which was typical for the season.
“We’re not seasonal, we grow 52 weeks of the eyar, through winter we do see a drop off in production, and this year is probably exaggerated a bit with the flooding, the wet weather has knocked the yield down a little bith, and with the winter being a bit cooler production is down, so through to spring we’re going to see a little less fruit.”
Mr Mackay said some banana growers were looking to diversify their crops to other tropical fruits in a bid to save-guard their livlihoods, but said options were limited on the coats in the Wet Tropics.
He said instead, georgraphic diversification which occurred following Tropical Cyclones Larry and Yasi which both lashed the region, had been a more popular choice for growers.
“Geograhic diversity, is probably what you're seeing with bananas lately, rather than switching to alternate crops people are broadening their growing area.”