Award winner withstands disease threat to bananas

September 11, 2014

Shannon Paton and Sarah Schultz, who run Paton’s Exotics at Nerada, near lnnisfail in Queensland, are the winners of the 2014 Plant Biosecurity Farmer of the Year Award.

Paton’s Exotics grow seven varieties of bananas and send the fruit to five Australian states.

The main pest threat is an endemic fungal disease, Race 1 Panama disease (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense), but the biosecurity measures used to protect their property from this disease also prevent other pests and diseases.

“I have seen a lot of farms succumb to Panama Race 1 in our area, where lush green trees change into wilted yellow leaves and are dead within days,” said Mr Paton.

“We did a fair bit of homework regarding our varieties and what diseases can knock them around.”

The varieties grown by Paton’s Exotics are Lady Fingers, Ducasse, Horn Plantains, Pacific Plantains, Succrea (Monkey Bananas), Red Dacca and Gros Michel.

Knowing the pests and diseases of your crop and how they can spread – like soil, water and planting material – you can plan to prevent them from entering and becoming established on your farm.

“Biosecurity measures start at the farm gate with washing vehicles, footwear and anything else that has soil on it or has come into contact with soil,” said Mr Paton.

The Patons are strict about making sure vehicles are clean if they need to go into production areas, use signs to inform visitors about biosecurity requirements, and have tissue culture planting material tested for disease.

“I have seen some very good banana farms in my time farming, and a lot of them do not have any biosecurity measures in place. As time goes on, signs of infection are starting to show.”

“I have turned trucks away from coming onto the farm. Either the truck had too much soil inside and out, or the truck drivers refused to wash their footwear. lf the company that you are dealing with want your business they will comply with these simple tasks.”

“In some Australian banana producing areas, Race 1 Panama has infected Lady Fingers and Ducasse farms, resulting in them not being able to grow them anymore.”

Other biosecurity measures used on-farm include screening of planting material for diseases and staff biosecurity briefings.

“We make sure our planting material is from ‘clean’ sources as pathogens can be spread through plant material as well. Working with tissue culture enabled us to have uniform, clean material, free from infection.”

People involved in farming operations are also given a run down on basic biosecurity measures and the risks associated with their varieties.

The one tip that Shannon Paton would like to give other farmers is that biosecurity on your farm starts with you.

“Don’t rely on others or have the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. Disease management doesn’t start with the first signs of disease. Prevention is better than cure, so put practices in place to withstand the threat.”

Sponsored by Plant Health Australia, the Plant Biosecurity Farmer of the Year award recognises the efforts of producers dedicated to keeping their operations free of diseases, pests and weeds.

The award is part of the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards, hosted by Kondinin Group and ABC Rural. Winners of all award categories were announced at a ceremony in Melbourne on 10 September.

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