The landscape for the northern Queensland banana industry changed forever when Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4) was detected on a farm in Tully in March 2015.
Unable to be eradicated, this soil-borne fungus had already wiped out Cavendish plantations overseas and in the Northern Territory. With no magic bullet, growers were extremely anxious and wanted answers – fast.
Biosecurity Queensland (BQ), within the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, with support from the Australian Government and the peak industry body, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC), launched a major incident response. A key element of the response was an extensive community engagement strategy where BQ’s Panama TR4 Program quickly established itself as the point of truth, rolling out a broad suite of resources and engagement activities to guide stakeholders through what has been described as ‘one of the most difficult times in the industry’s history’.
One of these resources, the Panama TR4 Grower Kit, armed growers with the tools to protect their plantations from this significant threat. The kit outlines a multi-tiered approach to on-farm biosecurity and includes a decontamination guide, collaborative feral pig trapping guide, comprehensive disease identification section and a description of the diagnostic process used to confirm the presence or absence of the disease.
Two years since the detection, and with the disease still confined to a single property, the Panama TR4 Grower Kit continues to be a key resource and reference point for many in the industry. Along with the kit, an accredited Panama education program and multimedia advertising campaign have both been highly successful in informing stakeholders about the risks posed by Panama TR4 and how those risks can best be managed.
The achievements of the Panama TR4 Program in communications and stakeholder engagement have established it as a model for future biosecurity incident responses.