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Panama disease

Biosecurity Queensland has confirmed that Panama disease tropical race 4 is present in north Queensland.

If you believe you have plants infected with Panama disease tropical race 4, call Biosecurity Queensland immediately on 13 25 23.

To receive regular updates, subscribe to Biosecurity Queensland's Panama disease tropical race 4 Situation Update, by selecting Biosecurity news within the eNewsletter section and Bananas under Biosecurity Queensland Alerts.

What is Panama disease tropical race 4?

Find information about Panama disease tropical race 4 including how to identify disease symptoms.

Information for banana growers

Find information and resources for banana growers, both English speaking and those from a non-English speaking background, including the Panama disease tropical race 4 Grower Kit, educational videos, workshops and farm gate signage.

Information for banana farm workers

Find information for workers both English speaking and those from a non-English speaking background, including information about Panama disease tropical race 4, decontamination instructions and other resources.

Current situation

A third commercial banana farm in the Tully Valley in Far North Queensland has been confirmed with Panama disease tropical race 4 (Panama TR4).

The vegetative compatibility group (VCG) test returned a conclusive result on 8 February 2018.

The positive VCG test follows a positive molecular (PCR) test on a plant sample taken in late January 2018. Learn more about diagnostic testing for Panama disease tropical race.

The third infested farm is located in close proximity to the other two Panama TR4 infested farms in the Tully Valley.

Since the property was first suspected of having the disease, Biosecurity Queensland has been working closely with the business owners to mitigate spread to the wider industry.

A key focus of Biosecurity Queensland’s operations was to assist the business owners to implement recommended biosecurity measures, while minimising disruption to the farm’s trade as much as possible.

The farm was back in operation after only a few days of downtime.

The minimal amount of farm downtime has been attributed to a prompt response from Biosecurity Queensland officers and the business already having a good understanding of on-farm biosecurity measures required to meet a notice.

Biosecurity Queensland continues to:

  • work with the business owner to meet their on-going biosecurity obligations, with a key focus of minimising any production downtime for their property
  • work with the Australian Banana Growers’ Council to mitigate the risk to the rest of the industry
  • undertake high intensity surveillance on the suspect property to determine the possible extent of the disease
  • conduct tracing and on-farm investigations to determine potential risk pathways.

The latest detection emphasises the challenge of managing and containing the disease.

Panama disease can survive in the soil for decades without banana plants and is easily transported in contaminated soil, water and on tools, farming machinery and vehicles.

Plants may not show symptoms from several weeks to several months, so the disease may be spread to other areas of the farm before it is eventually detected. Learn more about the disease.

Biosecurity Queensland is urging growers to continue to implement on-farm biosecurity strategies that not only protect their farm at the boundary, but strategies that will minimise farm downtime if the disease is detected on their property.

If you suspect Panama disease tropical race 4 in your plants, report it immediately to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Panama disease tropical race 4 tracing and surveillance strategy review

Biosecurity Queensland has assessed the potential risk of disease pathways from the two infested properties in the Tully Valley. From this assessment, surveillance priority and frequency for banana properties in the region has been revised. Further revision of the strategy will occur if another positive detection is confirmed.

Properties were prioritised into four categories that determined their surveillance frequency:

  • Panama disease tropical race 4 infested properties undergo surveillance every six weeks.
  • Properties at highest risk of exposure to the disease undergo surveillance every three months.
  • Properties at medium risk undergo surveillance every six months.
  • Properties at lowest risk do not undergo any surveillance.

Categorisation of properties was based on a number of factors such as:

  • the proximity of the property to the current infested properties
  • frequent and/or high risk movement between properties
  • services that have entered the property
  • shared planting material.

All growers are reminded to remain vigilant and maintain their on-farm biosecurity measures to protect their farms and the industry from the spread of Panama disease tropical race 4. For more information read the Panama disease tropical race 4 Grower Kit.

Growers will receive a letter in the mail mid-January 2018 advising of their property categorisation and surveillance schedule. Any questions regarding your property assessment can be directed to the Panama TR4 Program tracing and surveillance coordinator, Amanda Palmer on 07 4091 8146 or email amanda.palmer@daf.qld.gov.au.

The tracing and surveillance review was developed in consultation with the peak industry body, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC), and Agri-Science Queensland’s research and development extension team. The review took into account the reallocation of resources to ensure the Program’s activities are being directed to the areas that need support the most.

Biosecurity Queensland is working with growers and industry to prepare them for Panama TR4. If the disease is detected on your property, production downtime can be minimised if robust farm biosecurity measures are already in place. If you require assistance or advice on farm biosecurity phone the Panama TR4 Program’s compliance manager Paul Garland on 07 4091 8155 or email paul.garland@daf.qld.gov.au.

If you suspect Panama disease tropical race 4 in your plants, report it immediately to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Panama disease tropical race 4 confirmed on another property in the region

A second commercial banana farm in the Tully Valley in Far North Queensland returned a positive result for Panama disease tropical race 4 on 26 July 2017.

The property owners continue to work with Biosecurity Queensland to mitigate the risk of further spread. The property owners were exceptionally proactive and already had strict on-farm biosecurity measures in place on their property, which minimised their production downtime after the positive detection.

Managing the initial affected farm

Panama disease tropical race 4 was initially detected on Cavendish banana plants on a farm in the Tully Valley, Far North Queensland, on 3 March 2015.The affected property was purchased under an industry levy with additional Commonwealth funding by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC). The sale of the property was settled in October 2016; the ABGC took ownership of the affected property and immediately ceased all farming operations.

The Queensland Government provided almost $400,000 to the ABGC to assist with the closure of the affected farm. The funding was invested to:

  • strengthen the perimeter fence
  • destroy the remaining banana plants on the affected property
  • to establish a ground cover to prevent run-off.

Biosecurity Queensland continues to monitor the property to mitigate risk of disease spread.

Because Panama disease tropical race 4 is still viable after 40 years in the soil without a host plant, there is a possibility the disease is lying dormant as yet undetected.

The Biosecurity Act 2014

The Biosecurity Act 2014 (the Act) came into effect on 1 July 2016. Under the Act, the Biosecurity Regulation 2016 sets out a number of requirements in relation to Panama disease tropical race 4 and other biosecurity matter, including the establishment of biosecurity zones and movement restrictions for the banana industry in Queensland. A person may be in breach of their general biosecurity obligation if they fail to comply with the requirements set out in the Regulation.

In Queensland, under the Act, Panama disease tropical race 4 is category 1 restricted matter. This means that, by law, plants showing signs of disease must be reported to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Learn more about the Biosecurity Act 2014.

Independent report on testing procedures for Panama disease tropical race 4

On 10 February 2016, the Queensland Government released an independent report undertaken by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (PDF, 2.6MB) into testing procedures for Panama disease tropical race 4 after test results from a Mareeba banana farm in 2015 were found to be a ‘false positive’. The Deloitte review assessed the adequacy of testing processes from end to end including sampling and diagnostic assessment processes, associated reporting and response activities.

The review determined one of the key diagnostic tests was unreliable and confirmed that no human error occurred, all policies and procedures in relation to Panama disease testing were followed by staff and all reasonable steps were taken to verify this test result.

While the review has found all procedures were followed, the report made a number of recommendations to further enhance laboratory practices and quality assurance, which included changes to organisational structure, management information systems and documentation. This feedback is valuable as part of DAF's commitment to continuous improvement and the Department is considering what measures can be implemented.

Queensland's current Panama disease testing procedures have been confirmed as being accurate and reliable with two independent laboratories verifying the Panama TR4 Program's results and findings. The Royal Botanic Gardens laboratory in Sydney and Stellenbosch University in South Africa, have conducted their own tests of suspect samples taken from the known infested banana farm near Tully and arrived at the same uniformly positive results. Both laboratories are internationally recognised for their research into Fusarium; the group of fungi which can cause Panama disease.

Last updated 14 February 2018