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Wednesday, June 21, 2000

sought for Kauai
banana crop

The restrictions on shipping
are needed to help kill
bunchy top virus

By Anthony Sommer


LIHUE -- The state Agriculture Board will be asked tomorrow to slap a complete banana quarantine on Kauai, barring the movement of the plants anywhere on the island without state inspections and permits.

But what really needs to be done is to destroy at least half of the 7 million banana plants in both commercial crops and residential back yards on the island, state officials said yesterday.

By eliminating the infected plants, the Agriculture Department hopes to cut the spread of banana bunchy top virus, a disease that is carried from sick plants to healthy plants by a tiny aphid.

The disease was discovered in April by commercial banana growers near Kapaa, where Kauai's largest banana farms are located.

An islandwide survey showed the virus is present on more than half the island -- from Haena, on the north shore, down the east side of the island to Koloa, on the south shore -- a much larger area than originally thought, said Larry Nakahara, manager of the plant pest control branch.

Ideally, Nakahara said, the department would kill all of the banana plants on that half of the island by injection of a herbicide. The use of chemicals is the only way to guarantee the entire plant is killed, he said.

But that would mean killing 3.5 million plants on Kauai at a cost of $5 million and no eradication funds have been appropriated for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, Nakahara said.

"The timing was very bad. It was discovered just as the Legislature was ending its session," he said.

Once started, the eradication effort could take several years and there is no assurance that diseased plants wouldn't be brought back to the area, infecting healthy plants.

Banana bunchy top virus is not harmful to humans and the bananas from infected trees are safe to eat. But it is fatal to the trees. Their new leaves are stunted and have a bunchy appearance that gives the disease its name.

The disease occurs in banana-growing regions worldwide. It is so widespread on Oahu that state officials have given up trying to fight it there. They currently are trying to halt its spread on the Big Island, although some North Kona residents have refused to allow Agriculture Department inspectors on their lands.

Two years ago, 25,000 banana plants in the Kilauea area on Kauai were destroyed and it was believed the disease had been eliminated.

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