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Dole Banana Farmer

Q&A on Tropical Race 4

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What is TR4?TR4, or “Panama Disease”, is an acronym for Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 - a soil fungus that affects the growth cycle of bananas and several other Musa plants, like plantains, and baby bananas.

  What is its effect on the plants?TR4 does not damage the fruit. The fungus affects the plant’s vascular tissue, impeding water and nutrient transport during growth.

How is TR4 spread?The fungus lives in the soil. Therefore, the two main avenues of spread are water runoff from infected soil or the movement of the infected soil itself.  

Why is this an issue now?TR4 is not new. The fungus was originally identified in Asia in the 1970’s. It was contained for several years, until the late 1990’s when sporadic outbreaks were identified, followed by a significant spread in 2006 to include other countries in Asia, Africa, Australia and the Middle East.   It had not been present in Latin America until now.

Are bananas safe to eat?Yes, the quality of the fruit is not at all affected and bananas remain safe to eat. TR4 does not harm humans, animals or plant life other than banana plants.

Are there cases of TR4 on Dole farms?No, there are no proven or suspicious cases of TR4 on Dole farms.

Are bananas going to be around in the future?Absolutely. The presence of TR4 does not mean an immediate end of the Cavendish banana as it is often mentioned in the media. TR4 spread can be slowed down considerably by enacting containment protocols. Additionally, research is ongoing to introduce banana varieties that are resistant to TR4. 

Are volume reductions or shortages of volumes to be expected?In the immediate terms no volume shortages are expected. The specific effects of TR4 on volume over time will be dependent on the success of the containment programs being implemented across the region.

What is Dole’s assessment of market impact over the next few years?TR4 has been an ongoing threat for the banana industry for years. Awareness of risk is now elevated due to its presence in the region of La Guajira Colombia, and for the first time in Latin America. Due to the nature of the disease and the current options to control it, Dole does not expect the risk to decline in the next 2 to 3 years. 

Pricing will continue to be driven by supply and demand across the industry. However, because TR4 has the potential to lower plant yields on infected farms, pricing may also reflect the immediate and necessary investment in infrastructure and research to successfully contain the TR4 spread. 

What is Dole implementing to guarantee high quality fruit is available now and in the future? Dole is implementing all international biosecurity protocols on its own farms and its suppliers, including immediate investment in infrastructure to ensure all visitors and equipment enter farms clean as well as depart clean.

Dole is restricting non-essential visits to farms and updating travel policies.

Dole is researching new varieties of bananas that are resistant to TR4. Dole has an ongoing partnership with the Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Research (Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola or FHIA). 

Dole continues to have a diversified sourcing pool to mitigate any negative effects deriving from a single supply source.  

How close is Dole or its researchers to finding alternatives to the Cavendish? Dole is working hard towards this goal. Research is underway and ongoing but cannot accurately predict when a replacement variety will be available. Xavier RousselVice President Marketing and SustainabilityDole Food Company, Inc.

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