Australia: QAAFI launches US$6.2M banana plant protection program

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Australia: QAAFI launches US$6.2M banana plant protection program

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) has launched a AUD$6 million (US$6.2 million) five-year research project with the aim of protecting Australia's banana industry.

The project will be funded by grower levies and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL), run in conjunction with Queensland's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

"The banana industry is very familiar with the two main risks to plant production: adverse weather, and pests and diseases," said QAAFI principal research scientist André Drenth, who is also an associate professor at the University of Queensland (UQ).

"While we can't control the first one, this program seeks to bring together key research activities required for long-term banana health and streamline plant protection.

"The scale and scope of the program will enable economic delivery of effective outcomes for the industry as a whole and on a national basis."

It is hoped the project will help the industry increase production efficiency by 5% with 'minimal to no environmental impact' by 2014.

Drenth said a proactive approach would be taken to minimize the impact of diseases and pests by keeping plants healthy through resistant varieties and improved plant protection systems, rather than fighting pests and pathogens after they had become a problem.

"Some of the benefits of this program will be the strong link between basic and applied research by bringing together a critical mass of researchers and focussing the research effort on a range of relevant pest and disease problems facing the banana industry.

"Human capacity, for example, must be built and maintained to provide a committed skills base relevant to our industry with strong long-term international links, and the ability to deal with upcoming pest and disease issues in the field, and have the ability to expertly respond to policy documents such as import risk analysis."

DAFF science leader Garry Fullelove said the collaborative program was good news for the Australian banana industry.

"This joint initiative brings together a broad range of plant protection knowledge into one project to help ensure the ongoing high health status of one of Australia's major horticultural industries," he said.

"It is also another example of the excellent work achieved between Queensland Government and UQ through QAAFI, designed to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of tropical and sub-tropical food, fibre and agribusiness sectors through high-impact science."

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