Saturday, May 1, 2004

Banana virus found in
northern Big Island

Bunchy-top may have been in
the Kohala area for several years

A devastating banana virus is being reported in the Kohala area on the northern tip of the Big Island, two weeks after it was found on a Keeau farm south of Hilo, state agriculture officials said.

State inspectors, however, say they believe the virus has been present in the Kohala area's backyard plants for several years.

Recent surveys have found the banana bunchy-top virus in several yards north of Hilo, the state Department of Agriculture said yesterday.

The virus, which deforms fruit and eventually ends new growth, was found on three residential properties in the Halaula, Kapaau and Hawi areas in Kohala.

State officials are asking people in the area who have moved banana plants out of the area in the past three years to contact the Department of Agriculture in Hilo.

The department began conducting surveys on the east and north areas of the Big Island after the April 12 report of the virus at the Keaau Banana Plantation. Inspectors have not yet found the virus in Hilo.

State officials said last week that surveys indicated the virus might have infected plants at the Keaau Banana Plantation for a year or more and that it might be too late for eradication.

The state has obtained an emergency exemption from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the use of the pesticide Provado to try to kill the aphids that carry and spread the banana virus. The exemption applies only to eastern Hawaii, the heart of Hawaii's $8.4 million banana industry.

The insecticide is used to control pests in soil, seeds and foliage but is not currently labeled for use on banana plants. Because of the threat to Hawaii's banana industry, the state asked for the emergency approval and hopes to get similar approval to use the pesticide on other islands.

The aphids can be controlled by commercially available insecticide soaps, but banana plants must be thoroughly soaked to reach under leaf sheaths where aphid colonies are usually found.

Early symptoms of banana bunchy-top include streaking on the veins of leaves and on the leaf stem.

The virus causes new leaves on mature plants to become narrower and also causes the leaves to become "bunched" at the top.

Severely infected plants usually will not produce fruit, but, while any bananas produced will likely be deformed, they are safe to eat.

Banana bunchy-top virus also has been found on Oahu, on Kauai from Hanalei to Lawai, and on Maui in Pukalani and Makawao.


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