What is in this article?:
- Florida researcher working to protect banana supply
- Resistant varieties do exist
- Tropical race four of Panama disease, or TR4, wreaks havoc on banana plants by traveling up their trunk and killing their canopy.
- It appeared in the 1990s and destroyed banana plantations in Southeast Asia and Australia but has yet to arrive in the Western Hemisphere.
- There is no treatment for the disease.
Resistant varieties do exist
Banana varieties resistant to TR4, such as Goldfinger and Rose, do exist, but are not as hardy for shipping or as sweet as Cavendish. Goldfinger’s taste is often compared to that of an apple.
“Consumers are used to this Cavendish-type banana and in general won’t accept anything else,” Ploetz said.
Don Chafin, co-owner of Going Bananas nursery in Homestead, said his business offers more than 90 different types of bananas, including Goldfinger, and that it is unfortunate that more people are not familiar with them.
“Most people just know the variety they get at the grocery store, and we have so many more that are overwhelmingly delicious with interesting texture and aroma that the Cavendish, in my opinion, isn’t in the running,” Chafin said.
Chafin’s nursery is part of the approximately 500 acres of commercial bananas produced in Florida that have an annual value of about $2 million.
Ploetz said TR4 would not wipe out bananas overnight because it moves slowly through the soil. However, he said misdiagnoses can occur because symptoms caused by race 1 are the same as those caused by TR4.
“If TR4 arrived in the West and caused damage on varieties that are affected by race 1, it could become widespread before it was clear that a new problem was present in the hemisphere,” he said.
No one is sure when TR4 will arrive in the Western Hemisphere, Ploetz said.
“It could be tomorrow, it could be in 20 years. But history suggests it’s going to happen eventually. Somebody is going to bring it in their luggage, and once it establishes it will be nearly impossible to eradicate and difficult to manage.”