The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) has called on growers in the country’s north to get ready for what the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) this week forecasted would be a “typical” tropical cyclone season from November to April.
BoM said a normal season involves 10 and 13 cyclones occurring in Australian waters, including four that cross the coastline.
The bureau said neutral to weak La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and slightly warmer-than-average ocean temperatures to the north and east of Australia, are affecting this season’s outlook.
The banana industry was left relatively unscathed by Cyclone Debbie earlier this year but the event left its mark on other crops, while memories of Cyclone Yasi in 2011 are still fresh in banana farmers’ minds.
ABGC chair Stephen Lowe said the Bureau’s summer outlook and predicted cyclone activity was a timely reminder to all growers to make sure they were cyclone prepared.
“We are all aware that cyclones can cause severe damage, not only to crops, but to property, lives and landscape,” Lowe said.
“However, in addition to the usual pre-cyclone preparations, banana growers in the north now have the issue of Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4) to consider.”
Lowe urged growers that haven’t already done so, to consider preparing an on-farm strategy to minimize the risk of spreading TR4 during and after a cyclonic weather event.
He said the ABGC website contained some useful information and important checklists that could be useful for growers when considering a cyclone action plan.
“Clearly there are elements of a cyclone that cannot be controlled, such as destructive winds and flooding.
“However, there are still some crucial actions that growers can take to reduce the risk of spreading TR4 during a cyclone and after, which is why we offer these on-line resources, which I believe are worth considering when developing an on-farm cyclone strategy.”
Key components of the factsheets are;
Ensure you have access to clean planting material
– It is preferable for all growers to plan ahead and set up a tissue culture-sourced nursery on their own property in a biosecure area, away from flood-prone sites. Bits and suckers from the nursery can then be used for replanting. This is a good strategy for biosecurity, cyclone or no cyclone.
– Access to clean, safe planting material may not be possible after a cyclone. Nurseries may not be able to cope with the surge in demand and they may sustain damage from the cyclone themselves.
– Planting material is a high risk pathway for the spread of Panama TR4. Avoid sourcing bits and suckers from other properties and don’t be tempted to donate or sell bits and suckers to other growers following a cyclone
– A lot of waste banana plant material will need to be cleaned up after a cyclone. Avoid dumping it in areas outside your farm if possible.
– Material (including soil) carried in floodwaters is beyond anyone’s control, however growers may be able to control the movement of people, vehicles, machinery, tools and equipment carrying potentially contaminated soil.
– After previous severe cyclones there was an influx of people into the district with little or no knowledge of biosecurity. If workers, emergency services and volunteers need to access your property, after a cyclone, try to ensure that good biosecurity practices are maintained. Excluding them won’t always be an option, so check and ensure biosecurity signs (with contact phone number) are at all entry points.
– Electricity outages are likely, therefore backup generators or fuel-driven pumps will be needed to continue operating electricity-driven wash-downs.
– Having someone trained in biosecurity and decontamination procedures stationed at your farm entry/exit points will help to ensure any non-essential visitors are excluded and disinfection of essential vehicles, machinery and footwear is carried out properly.
– Restore critical barriers that may be downed after a cyclone or with flooding. Temporary barriers may be sufficient to stop accidental access.
– Before a cyclone, it is preferable to define and segregate areas where flooding may bring soil or banana plant material onto the farm.
– Items used in the paddock for banana production such as bunch bags, string, dripper tube, bunch slips etc. may become contaminated by TR4 spores in a cyclone and subsequent flooding. These items would preferably be stored in a low risk place on the property until they can be disposed of by deep burying on the farm.
– Feral animals roam more widely after a cyclone due to reduced food sources. They are more likely to enter your farm searching for food. Fencing should be replaced as soon as possible.
– Growers could plan to reduce the number of visits by off- farm supply vehicles after a cyclone by stocking up on things like fuel, cartons, fertilisers and irrigation equipment before a cyclone.
Salvaging fruit after a cyclone
– Salvaging downed fruit (in contact with the soil), or bunches that were in contact with floodwaters (and the suspended silt), may pose a risk to TR4 spread. So, growers need to comply with the General Biosecurity Obligation (GBO) and not enable soil or leaf matter to leave the farm.