Australian Grower’s council buys out banana farm infested by Panama disease

THE banana industry has finally managed to broker a buyout deal with the owners of a Far North farm infested with a devastating plant disease. But the landmark purchase hinges on support from other growers, who have been operating at a loss for months with the price of bananas sitting below the cost of production.

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council will ask farmers to chip in two-thirds of the cost to buy Bevan Robson’s Tully Valley plantation after securing federal funding and signing a conditional sales agreement. Mr Robson has been trading under strict biosecurity protocols since Panama disease Tropical Race 4 was found at his property last year in the first case outside the Northern Territory. TR4 is the most aggressive strain of a soil-borne fungus considered to be the most ­destructive disease of bananas.

ABGC chairman Doug Phillips said the industry body had been working for many months on the strategy, which was seen as the best way to protect the country’s most productive banana region.

“Ninety-three per cent of Australia’s bananas are grown in North Queensland,” he said. “It is absolutely vital that we do everything in our power to protect the industry from any further spread of this disease.

“The purchase and eventual closure of this property will limit the movement of soil, and thus limit the spread of TR4.” The Robsons’ lawyer Ian Conrad yesterday said his clients were unable to comment. The ABGC will run a national levy ballot to fund TR4 containment and management, including the industry’s share of the buyout deal.

An Innisfail grower, who did not wish to be named, cautiously welcomed the news. “If they have confined it to that area, it would be best to stop producing from that area,” he said. “I feel for them (the Robsons) that’s for sure.” Today, the ABGC will host grower meetings at 10am at Innisfail Shire Hall, Innisfail, and 4pm at Mareeba RSL, Mareeba.