Joining forces on Panama wilt

Leading plant researchers from the Middle East have visited the Northern Territory as part of Israel’s quest to understand the devastating banana disease. The visit coincided with Dr Altus Viljoen, South Africa, who is a world authority on Panama wilt.

Panama wilt disease, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (TR4), devastated parts of the Australian banana industry when it was detected in the Northern Territory (NT) in 1997 and then North Queensland in March 2015.

TR4 kills the Cavendish variety which makes up most of the Australian market.

The soil-borne fungus remains in the soil for many decades, and has spread across the Middle East in recent years, affecting countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Oman and Pakistan.

However it has not yet reached Israel.

The Middle Eastern fungal strain Tropical Race 4—or Foc TR4—is the same as the one found in Australia, so researchers from Israel’s Volcani Research Centre wanted to understand Northern Territory’s management of the disease.

They visited banana trials at Coastal Plains Research Station, facilities at Berrimah Research Farm, and infested banana properties.

One major banana farm has pioneered growing with TR4 in the NT and other banana farms have started on virgin soils or are also growing with TR4.

The NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) Plant Industries Development group has a four-year research project with Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia, this research includes soil testing and screening new banana varieties to identify a tolerant or resistant variety that meets consumer expectations.

The study will also conduct disinfectant trials to identify suitable chemicals on the market for decontamination.

The Israeli researchers also visited the Philippines, whose industry was decimated by the disease.

Visitors must pass through a decontamination station prior to entering Coastal Plain Research Station