Suckers the way to go for new dwarf lady finger variety

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) trials of new dwarf lady finger banana plants at Coffs Harbour have determined that any expansion in plantings will have to come from suckers because tissue culture propagation is not viable for this particular variety.

"Dwarf lady finger banana plants are creating a lot of interest among Coffs district growers because the new variety is around 1.5 metres shorter than the standard Ladyfinger variety" said Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald.

"Banana bunches on the shorter plants are, in some cases, reachable from the ground - in contrast with conventional lady finger plants which require workers to climb a three metre ladder to tend the bunches," Minister Macdonald said.

"Already many local growers have planted small quantities of the dwarf variety but the amount of new planting material has been limited."

NSW DPI horticulturist Peter Newley said NSW DPI had been looking at ways to increase the availability of the new variety, being commercialised by Gerri Rossi, a private grower.

"Tissue culture propagation would have meant thousands of new plants could have been generated quickly, reared in the nursery and made available to meet increasing demand," he said.

"Unfortunately about one third of the tissue-cultured plants in the trial at Coffs Council’s Re-use Farm did not grow true to type but reverted back to the tall type.

"This off-type rate is too high for commercial plantations which require plants to be uniform to warrant the expense of establishing them in the plantation.

"New plantings will have to come from suckers taken from the small number of mother plants currently growing in local plantations - limiting the rate of expansion of the dwarf plantings."

Mr Newley said the dwarf plant still offers great potential for banana growers. "The original dwarf lady finger plant was discovered a few years ago - a ‘sport’ or genetic aberration - on Gerri Rossi’s Coffs district banana plantation," he said.

The shorter stature of the plant makes growing this variety much easier than the standard Ladyfinger variety but the plants must be well managed if growers are to achieve good fruit size. This means growers must irrigate and manage the plantation’s nutrition carefully throughout the growth cycle.

He said tissue culture was the preferred method for planting out new banana plantations because "It eliminates the risk of spreading diseases such as Panama disease and Bunchy Top because the plant is propagated in the sanitised conditions of a laboratory," he said.

"Planting banana plants in NSW is regulated to stop the spread of disease.

"Anyone wanting to plant bananas must contact their local DPI office to get a permit."

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