Three years after being declared eradicated from Australia, the plant disease known as banana freckle has resurfaced in the Northern Territory. On Tuesday afternoon, the disease was detected on a rural, residential property in the Batchelor district, south of Darwin, according to NT Farmers chief executive Paul Burke. Mr Burke stated that it was too early to pinpoint the disease’s source or potential spread. “Banana freckle generates patchy leaves and fruit that feels like sandpaper when touched,” he explained. “The illness has a substantial impact on the quality and quantity of the fruit.” According to him, the illness poses a significant danger to Australia’s $500 million banana industry.
The epidemic was discovered on dwarf cavendish bananas, according to NT chief plant health officer Anne Walters, and surveillance to determine the extent of the infestation had begun. “It could be limited to one or a few properties in that [Batchelor] region, or it could be more prevalent, so we’re keeping a close eye on it,” Dr Walters added. “We have limits on the land in issue, and they have been asked not to transport any plant material or fruit off the property… at this time, this restriction is restricted to only this property.” Dr Walters said it was too early to predict whether the government will impose additional limitations or launch an eradication campaign.
The Northern Territory Farmers Association said it will devote all of its resources to “helping to stop the disease’s spread and minimise its financial impact on farmers.” In 2013, Australia experienced its first outbreak of banana freckle on the popular cavendish banana cultivar. It prompted a massive eradication effort that resulted in the removal of thousands of banana plants in the Top End. During the programme, the NT’s commercial banana sector was practically wiped out, leaving NT stores dependant on interstate banana imports. The NT’s eradication programme, however, was arguably defined by community outrage, with many residents and business owners believing the policy was poorly explained and overbearing. Authorities are asking NT residents to be on the lookout for any signs of banana freckle and report symptoms to the exotic plant pest hotline 1800 084 881.