Banana growers urged to arm themselves with category D weapons
State Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne has advised north Queensland landholders concerned about the ability of feral pigs to spread the Panama TR4 virus they have the capacity to acquire category D weapons – pump action shotguns and rifles – to up the ante themselves.
The same guns that were taken away in 1996 are now being pushed as a practical firearm for feral animal control.
Panama disease tropical race 4 was initially detected on Cavendish banana plants on a farm in the Tully Valley, North Queensland, on 3 March 2015.
Sally Cripps from the North Queensland Register reported, Bill was speaking in the wake of a call by opposition spokesman Dale Last for the government to urgently assist with existing eradication measures and take a lead role in coordination.
Mr Last said a recent meeting of growers in the region had specifically asked him to address the issue in parliament.
“Banana growers and Biosecurity Queensland staff are doing their best to contain the latest outbreak, but one has to question the effectiveness of their efforts when we have thousands of feral pigs roaming around the area,” he said. “For the sake of our banana industry this issue needs to be addressed and it needs to happen now.”
He described the current approach as “ad hoc” and said “given the scale, this needs coordinating at a much higher level”.
Mr Byrne said the government had committed some $24m to protecting the banana industry since the initial TR4 detection but said the management of feral animals was first and foremost the responsibility of landholders with the assistance of the local council.
“This is rainforest country and aerial control is limited too."
“You can’t fault the Biosecurity Queensland response but expecting weekend warriors to manage this is hugely worrying to growers.”
He understood the Cassowary Coast council had 18 traps and that DAF have produced a guide to landholders on how to trap pigs, but said much more was needed.
“This is a task beyond the capacity of local pig hunters and a few banana growers."
“Given that the gestation period for a pig is around four months, this is not something that can be done sporadically.
“There is a need for a well organised and funded program to be initiated and I am calling on the agriculture minister to step up to the plate and urgently implement an ongoing program aimed at eradicating this pest.”
Mr Byrne said Queensland legislation meant there were a number of tools available in terms of trapping and poisoning programs, and firearms. “particularly the capacity for landholders to acquire Category D weapons for the purpose of feral animal removal”.
The hidden cost behind the immediate biosecurity cost to the $600m industry, from the loss of 400 B-double trucks backloading freight and groceries into north Queensland each week, was also noted by Mr Last.
“It means that if the banana industry in north Queensland is wiped out, freight charges on everyday grocery items will skyrocket which will be subsequently passed on to the customers.
“The question of whether TR4 can be eradicated is a difficult one.
“Whilst I appreciate that banana growers and Biosecurity Queensland are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of this soil borne disease, the longer term ramifications are unknown.”
What is Panama Disease
Panama disease is caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense. There are several races of Panama disease:
Race 1 infects Lady Finger, Sugar and Ducasse bananas, but not Cavendish.
Race 2 infects cooking bananas like Bluggoe and Blue Java bananas.
Race 3 infects only Heliconia species, not bananas.
Race 4 infects most varieties of bananas, including the main commercial variety, Cavendish
There are two important strains of this race:
Tropical race 4 is a serious threat to the Australian Cavendish banana industry. It is called 'tropical' race 4 because this strain of the fungus is capable of infecting Cavendish banana varieties growing in tropical conditions. Tropical race 4 has spread rapidly in South East Asia and was first detected in Australia near Darwin in 1997 and subsequently detected in Queensland in Tully in 2015.
Subtropical race 4 occurs in subtropical regions and usually only produces symptoms in Cavendish after a period of cold stress. Subtropical race 4 has been under quarantine control in south east Queensland, northern New South Wales and Western Australia for some time.