We Could Be On The Verge Of Another Banana Shortage, Thanks To Feral Pigs

Three banana farms have already reported infections of Panama disease tropical race 4.

What you need to know
  • The Queensland banana industry is under threat from Panama disease tropical race 4
  • The disease, which cannot be eradicated with pesticides, is spread from farm-to-farm via feral pigs
  • A $1 million 'war on pigs' is due to begin in the next few weeks
  • The state government has invested $24 million in fighting the spread of infection since the disease was first reported in March 2015

The great Australian banana shortage of 2011, a byproduct of Cyclone Yasi, still strikes fear into the heart of Aussie banana lovers -- and we might be on the verge of another one. This time around, feral pigs are to blame.

The Australian Banana Growers association is warning that the entire industry is at risk of being wiped out thanks to a Panama disease tropical race 4 infection, which is spread farm-to-farm via feral pigs.

Already three farms -- all located in the Tully Valley in Far North Queensland -- have been infected with the soil-born fungus, the latest testing positive in February this year.

"It's absolutely a huge issue," Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

"It is something that we are determined to do all we can with eradication."

Panama disease TR4 -- which isn't treatable with pesticides -- can be spread from farm-to-farm via the mud and dirt on feral pigs.

"They don't just wreak havoc on our crops but they also dig up the eggs of some of our endangered species and that's a big issue," Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Enoch said.

Banana trees infected with Panama disease TR4 may show yellowing of lower and older leaves. Source: Suzy Perry / Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

About 95 percent of Australia's total banana production comes from Queensland, making this a vital issue to protect the industry.

One of the major issues farmers face is that plants may not show symptoms of Panama TR4 for several weeks, meaning the disease could spread to other areas of the farm before it is detected. It can also survive in the soil for decades, and is easily transported in contaminated soil, water, tools, farming machinery and vehicles.

An almost $1 million 'war on pigs' is set to begin in a few weeks, as the Queensland Government sets to protect the banana industry from going under.

“We have listened to the concerns of growers and Biosecurity Queensland will work with industry and local government stakeholders as well as the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on the development of a feral pig management plan that complements the activities of the Panama TR4 Program," said Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, late last year.

$40,000 is being set aside for an aerial shooting program, proven to be most effective in culling the feral pig population, while baiting, trapping and remote camera monitoring all being employed.

About 2,500 feral pigs were culled last year, with the government planning to cull the same amount this year, although it's believed Queensland's feral pig population could be at a record two million.

A full $170,000 of the total $24 million the government has invested into fighting the spread of the disease since March 2015 is set aside to researching a potential pesticide, as well as exploring alternative surveillance and detection methodologies.

In the meantime, Biosecurity Queensland is urging banana growers to continue implementing bio-security measures to protect both their farms and the ones around them.

"Many growers continue the fight to keep Panama disease TR4 at bay every day," said Furner. "Even though it has been over two and half years since the initial detection, their resolve has not waivered."