The Robson family’s world changed on 9th March, 2015, when they took a call from Biosecurity Queensland. Samples taken from yellowing banana plants on their Tully Valley banana farm had tested positive to Tropical Race 4 (TR4). This is a soil borne variant of the Fusarium fungus that affects Cavendish bananas. There is no known way to treat spores in the soil, which can remain viable and infect banana plants grown in that soil for up to 30 years.
TR4 effectively wiped out the banana industry in the Northern Territory in the late 1990’s. If the disease is not controlled and spreads, it could spell the end for an industry worth over $600 million per annum for North Queensland.
In a media statement issued on 6th January, 2016 the Australian Banana Growers Council Inc (ABGC) announced that they were entering into discussions with the Robson family with a view to the ABGC buying their property. The aim of the ABGC was to provide a mechanism to allow for the destruction of the banana plants on the property and keep the property out of production for the foreseeable future.
Banana plants are the only significant host for the disease of concern in North Queensland. If the infection of the Robson’s farm is is just a one in a million accident and it is the only infected farm in North Queensland, by far and away the best chance the industry has to keep the disease under control, is to remove all the plants that could host the disease. Then, the few spores that are inevitably in the soil on the Robsons’ farm, will never have a chance to multiply. Recognising this, the Robsons were willing to leave there farm, as they acknowledged in a media release issued in response to the ABGC media statement.
Discussions between the Robsons and the ABGC ensued. Unfortunately, agreement on terms could not be reached and the ABGC announced on 28th January, 2016 that discussions would not continue. The Robsons have now issued a media statement confirming that and stating that they will focus on making the best of their situation.
For those who are interested in how Panama disease has impacted the banana industry and the Robson family in particular, we have collected links to media releases issued by Biosecurity Queensland, Australian Banana Growers Council Inc (ABGC) and on behalf of the Robson family.
The Robson family remain the only banana growers in North Queensland with a confirmed case of Panama disease on their property.