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Australian banana industry facing devastating disease

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Staff writer ▼ | March 18, 2015
Australian banana growers are facing an industry-destroying disease, which is threatening their 600 million Australian dollar ($458 million) crop.
Australian bananas
Banana industry   $458 million industry in danger
Agriculture department officials confirmed the existence of Panama disease tropical race 4, a severe strain, on a banana farm in northern Queensland. The disease affects the roots of banana plants and stops fruit from growing, and once a property is contaminated it stays in the soil for 30 years.

Owner of the infected farm, Heidi Quagliata, told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the Panama disease will ruin the family business.

"This is probably the biggest threat that our industry has faced while I've been growing bananas and we have to beat it," he said.

Other farmers have begun taking similar precautions, they have been fencing off crops from other parts of their property, stopping vehicles from entering their property and washing down cars and shoes whenever they return home.

Australian Banana Growers Council chief executive Jim Pekin said 95 percent of the fruit was grown in north Queensland, near the infected area.

Pekin said Panama was the worse disease of bananas in the world.

"This is probably the biggest threat our industry has faced. It's a fungus, it affects the root of the plant. What it does is it stops the water going up through the plant so it won't produce a harvestable bunch so there can't be any fruit come off those trees and so it dies. We're putting in place management strategy to limit the spread of this pretty awful disease."

Queensland Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne said the government was confident biosecurity measures would stop the disease from spreading.

"All of our efforts since day one have been about containment," he said in a statement. Right now it's on one particular property and those tests have come back positive over the weekend.

"We have a high degree of confidence about our capacity to contain initially, but we're also undertaking further survey work and testing to establish the full parameters of the problem."