While world headlines are fixed on the coronavirus COVID-19, the banana industry is concerned, as well, about stopping the spread of another potential scourge: Fusarium Wilt tropical race 4 — commonly called TR4 or Panama disease.
TR4 was detected in Colombia in August — its first appearance in Latin America, where a large percentage of bananas bound for the U.S. are grown. The disease already had shown up in Africa, Southeast Asia and other areas.
U.S. importers say growers are not taking any chances: all of their efforts are focused on prevention of TR4, a fungal disease that enters a banana plant through the roots and chokes off the flow of water and nutrients.
“We are actively investing in prevention measures in our own plantations in Asia where the disease is present, as well as in Central America, and have implemented several procedures for every each individual farm,” said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc.
Efforts include building fences, barriers and drainage canals, Christou said.
Other preventative measures are in place, as well, and the industry is working as a whole to fight the problem, said Angelica Hicks, banana category lead with West Bridgewater, Mass.-based Oke USA Fruit Co./Equal Exchange Produce.
“All farmers are working on preventative measures on their farms to avoid inoculation in case the fungus were to come to their region,” she said.
“Currently, it’s not in Ecuador or Peru but, regardless, all farmers are putting steps in place, like marking boundaries, so people aren’t cutting through. Workers use shoe and boot sanitizers so you don’t carry soil in and out that could spread disease.”
Fighting TR4 will add to the cost of bananas, although how much is hard to say, said Rodrigo Velasquez, banana specialist with San Francisco-based Earl’s Organic Produce.
However, he did say whatever costs are incurred will be passed along the supply chain.