It was less than four years ago when our banana industry was reeling from the double punch of Panama Wilt and Bunchy Top Virus. With the value of their product in freefall, Oʻahu farmers reached out to Extension. In response, Amjad Ahmad, Koon-Hui Wang, and Jari Sugano obtained a Specialty Crop Block Grant Program administered by Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture. The grant allowed Extension’s Jensen Uyeda to screen field-grown banana plants for the virus, using a new Agdia Amplify RP XRT rapid DNA amplification technology – an improvement over the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA, method. Extension then partnered with Dr. Ming Li of the Hawaiʻi Agriculture Research Center & East County Hawaiʻi Farm Bureau to move clean, BBTV-free plants into tissue culture for multiplication.
Fast forward to now. With Extension’s help, banana growers on Oʻahu’s Windward side are re-starting new banana fields, using BBTV-free keiki plants derived from tissue-cultured mothers. Extension has also developed a rotational insecticide program, designed to work in conjunction with the BBTV tissue culture program.
“We were just about to stop growing apple banana because we had no resources for clean planting material,” says Clyde Fukuyama of Kahuku Farms. “We are very excited and looking forward to start increasing our plantings again. This will definitely help and benefit our farm.”
To date, 875 tissue-cultured banana plants have been distributed to 22 growers, and Extension is optimistic the program has the potential to re-establish previously destroyed banana orchards, and enable growers to rebound from the devastating effects of BBTV and Panama wilt. The initial success has led to another grant secured to distribute a larger number of seedlings (5,000-10,000) to statewide producers.
“With almost a thousand BBTV-free plants distributed to growers, along with rotational insecticide, we’re hopeful the local banana industry will rebound quickly,” says Jari. "It’s important to note, these plants are not disease resistant — just free of the virus. Growers must closely follow the insecticide rotation in order to keep the aphid vector away.”