Panama disease in bananas: frequently asked questions

Page last updated: Friday, 13 May 2016 - 12:48pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Panama disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is considered one of the most destructive diseases of banana plants worldwide.

In March 2015 it was detected on Cavendish banana plants at a property in North Queensland. Since then, further detections in different areas of the same property have been confirmed. It is now considered to be present in Queensland and under official control.

Panama disease TR4 is not known to occur in Western Australia, and the department has put in place a number of biosecurity measures to help protect the state's banana industry.

Background

What is Panama disease?

Panama disease TR4 is considered one of the most destructive diseases of banana plants worldwide. It is caused by the soil-borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (Tropical Race 4). 

Does Panama disease TR4 affect any other fruit plants?

No, Panama disease TR4 does not affect other fruit crops; however, it infects most banana varieties including the main commercial variety Cavendish.

How does Panama disease TR4 affect banana production?

Plants affected by Panama disease TR4 rarely produce marketable bunches. Once established, the fungus persists in the soil for many years, making the production of susceptible banana varieties such as Cavendish economically unviable.

How is the disease spread?

Panama disease TR4 is most commonly spread by the movement of infected plant material, but can also spread with soil and water movement or by contaminated equipment. It is not an airborne disease.

Panama disease in Queensland

Why has WA changed its biosecurity measures related to Panama disease TR4?

In March 2015 Panama disease TR4 was detected on Cavendish banana plants at a property in the Tully Valley, North Queensland. Since then, further detections in different areas of the same property have been confirmed. The disease has not been detected on any other properties.

Panama disease TR4 is now considered to be present in Queensland, however, it is under official control and is the focus of an extensive control and containment program aimed at minimising the spread of the disease.

This represents a significant risk to the North Queensland banana production area. More than 90% of Australia’s banana production is in North Queensland and Queensland is a major supplier of bananas to the Western Australian market.

Panama disease TR4 is not known to occur in Western Australia, and DAFWA has implemented specific biosecurity measures to minimise the risk of intra- and interstate movements of potential carriers spreading Panama disease TR4 to the state’s banana growing regions.

What is the Queensland Government's response to these detections?

Biosecurity Queensland's response is a program of surveillance and containment, community engagement and education in partnership with industry. Growers are encouraged to focus on strengthening their on-farm biosecurity practices in order to protect their businesses.

More information on the Panama disease TR4 detection and the current situation in Queensland can be found on the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries website.

What impact will the Queensland detection have on Australia’s banana industry?

All fresh bananas available in Australia are grown in Australia, with more than 90% of the country's bananas produced in northern Queensland. There are approximately 200 banana-producing enterprises around the Tully and Innisfail areas.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has advised that banana farm operations in the North Queensland production area and other banana growing regions are continuing as usual, including harvesting, packing and transportation of bananas to market.

This means there will be no impact on banana supply or fruit quality and consumers will be able to continue to buy and enjoy bananas as usual.

Impact on the WA banana industry

What quarantine restrictions are currently in place in WA?

DAFWA has implemented biosecurity measures to restrict the intrastate movement of containers into an area within 50 km of the Kununurra or Carnarvon post office—that contain or have contained banana fruit grown or packed in Queensland—unless each container has been:

  • inspected by a DAFWA Quarantine WA Inspector and found free from soil and plant debris; and
  • marked with a 'passed quarantine' stamp or sticker by Quarantine WA.

The re-packing of bananas on arrival in Western Australia does not avoid the requirement for inspection and identification.

For more information, please see intrastate movements – new and alternative requirements (Section 44), approved 8 October 2015, for movement of potential carriers of declared pests including Panama disease TR4.

How long will WA’s quarantine protocols be in place?

The biosecurity measures will remain in place unless additional information becomes available that demonstrates the conditions are no longer justified.

Can banana fruit from Queensland still be sent to the WA market?

Queensland remains the major supplier of bananas to the Western Australian market.

What can banana growers do to prevent Panama disease (TR4) on their property?

Panama disease TR4 is most commonly spread by the movement of infected plant material, but can also spread with soil and water movement or by contaminated equipment. Growers are encouraged to protect their businesses by strengthening their on-farm biosecurity practices, including:

  • obtaining new planting material from tissue culture plants or from reputable sources where the plants or propagation material origin are known
  • not sharing farm machinery and equipment with other growers
  • decontaminating any plant or soil material from vehicles, machinery, equipment, clothing and footwear prior to entry to their property.

A Farm Biosecurity Manual for the Banana Industry [PDF] is available from the Plant Health Australia website.

What do I do if I find it?

It is important that any suspect occurrences of Panama disease TR4 are reported. Early detection and eradication will help protect the Western Australian banana industry. Please contact the Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS) if you suspect you have seen this pest in Western Australia.

More information

More information can be found on the Panama disease: declared pest web page and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries website.

People can also follow Biosecurity Queensland on facebook or Twitter @BiosecurityQld.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080